As a young girl growing up, actress Shannon Elizabeth always maintained close ties to Lebanese culture. After all, her parents belonged to a local Lebanese-Syrian club in Waco, Texas, and building a strong community bond was central to the family.
“I was really proud of that side of my life,” Elizabeth told Lebanese Examiner. “To be able to experience the food and the culture for me was something I felt a lot of people were missing out on.”
The actress – best known for her iconic roles in American Pie, Scary Movie and American Reunion – was born to a Lebanese/Syrian father and mother of English, Irish and German descent. She says she was always closest to the Lebanese side of the family.
“I remember going to my grandparents’ house quite a bit and it was always about cooking and Lebanese food,” she said. “I would get into the kitchen with my grandmother and help make Syrian bread.”
Elizabeth now maintains a non-profit animal rescue organization in Cape Town, South Africa called Animal Avengers. She started the organization in 2001 to help in the global effort in saving animals from going extinct.
Ironically, one of her favorite foods growing up was kibbeh nayyeh, or minced raw lamb or beef mixed with fine bulgur and spices. Now, her favorite Lebanese dishes are limited to vegetarian options like grape leaves and falafel.
“My relatives don’t understand it,” she joked. “There are a lot of great things that don’t have meat; it’s just about exploring it.”
Elizabeth initially started her organization as a dog and cat rescue, but expanded to South Africa after learning of the global poaching crisis. Through crowdfunding, she raised $30,000 – and the rest is history.
“I loved the people (of South Africa), I loved the culture and I felt like I was closer to the issues here,” she added. “I felt like there was more that I could be doing with my platform.”
Although she is still active in the film industry, Elizabeth said she is dedicated to her organization, which could soon start work in the Middle East. In fact, she already helped sponsor a lion from Lebanon.
“There is a Lion that was rescued that I was told was originally from the Middle East,” she said. “I did a lifetime sponsorship for him to help pay for his expenses.”
She said she still has many connections in Hollywood, and hopes to someday build connections in Beirut.
“I would love to go to Beirut because that’s where our ancestors are from,” she added. “I’m waiting for the right opportunity, but it is very high on my list to get out there very soon.”