YU Should Know: Jasmin Singer from Our Hen House

There are many catalysts for going plant-based. And at some stage in the adventure, whether it’s right at the get-go, or after some time, animal welfare will most likely become part of your reasoning. See, if you’re in it for health first (like I was) the more you research a plant-based diet, the more you’ll uncover, and the more the ugliness of conventional farming and agribusiness will become undeniable. It can leave us feeling a spectrum of shocked, helpless, guilt and even numb, but this is one of the reasons why I started the YU Should Know Interview Series. So you can learn more, connect and discover how YU can make a difference as you take each step forward.

Meet Jasmin Singer, the executive director of Our Hen House, an “indefatigably positive” online magazine that provides daily updates on what you need to create change for our animal friends. Dive into myriad opportunities via video, audio, interviews, reviews and the written word (they even have an etsy shop). OHH is a juicy website, named the 2011 Indie Media Powerhouse by VegNews Magazine and it’s a 2013 Webby Award Official Honoree for Radio & Podcasts.

YU Should Know: Our Hen House

Whether you call yourself a “vegan” or not, OHH is an inspiring website for anyone looking to make some change for the better in this world. So read the interview with Jasmin below—get her tips for plant-based newbs, her recs for easy food prep and let your jaw drop to the floor as you discover all the cool projects she has in the works. Jasmin is one plant-powerful woman #YUShouldKnow.

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10 Qs for Jasmin Singer:
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HC: Tell us about your transition to plant-based. When did it begin? What/who was your catalyst?

JS: I had been a vegetarian since I was 18. I ditched meat because I thought being vegetarian was a natural extension of being a theatre student—like wearing all black, or smoking clove cigarettes. I also thought meat was “icky,” and boy was I on to something! But I never thought about the dairy and egg industries, which, as it turns out, are two of the most egregiously cruel subsectors of animal agribusiness. I met a friend a little over 10 years ago (Marisa Miller Wolfson, of Vegucated fame), and she was a recent vegan herself. She showed me some footage of factory farming (where would we be without these friends, right?), and after a few short days, I took the leap to veganism—and it turns out, it was a very, very short leap. I also instantly became an animal rights activist.

HC: I hear you. So, what are some tips you can share for newbies?

JS: In one of the workshops I give with my partner, “Think Vegan: 10 Tips to Get You Started,” the tip that I think is among the most important is to find and foster community (I have a resource online where you can see the rest of the tips). Meet-Ups, vegan drinks, on-line circles, pen pals. However you do it, make new vegan friends. You may think you are the only vegan in town, but I promise you, you are not. We’re everywhere, our community is growing every day, and you want to get on board.

HC: Will you share some of your best tips for saving time and staying prepared, too?

JS: Stock your freezer with frozen fruits and veggies, and stock your cabinets with bulk items like dried beans and whole grains. You might also want to have some low-sodium, simple soups hanging around your cabinets. Finally, make sure you’re well-stocked with a range of nut butters, tahini, and nuts and seeds. None of the stuff I just mentioned will go bad anytime soon, and you can always throw together an easy stir fry or soup (or bulk up that canned soup with veggies, grains, and nut butter). To save time, soak your beans ahead of time. Make enough food for four times what you think you’ll need, and you’ll frequently have an extra meal lying around. If you have the means, invest in a high-quality blender, like a Vitamix, and a pressure cooker—which will save you loads of time. But being a healthy vegan is not dependent on fancy equipment (or fancy food for that matter). Do one major grocery shopping every 6 weeks, stock upon those supplies, and you’ll always have an easy-to-prepare, delicious meal. (Nut butters are key for any dish.)

HC: When you went vegan, what were some of the biggest surprises you discovered about the lifestyle and yourself?

JS: Vegans are everywhere—that was the biggest surprise. My partner and I travel extensively, to very remote areas sometimes, and we always, always find vegans where we’re traveling to. We are a minority, yes, but a growing minority—and it’s not long before we reach a tipping point and mainstream culture follows suit.

YU Should Know: Jasmine Singer & Mariann Sullivan

Another tasty surprise? There’s vegan food everywhere. Sure, sometimes when you’re out at restaurants you have to go out of your way to get it, but hey, that’s advocacy! And you’d be surprised by how many times there’s already a vegan (or easily veganizable) item on the menu. Start looking at menus from a different vantage point, and you’ll see what I mean.

As far as what I learned about myself when I went vegan, I guess it would be that the foods I started eating truly opened up my culinary world, and I discovered foods (and entire cuisines) that I never otherwise would have known about. That’s been a rich addition to my eating.

HC: Great tips. Now, let’s imagine that you’re stranded on an island (with electricity!). What are your top three must have kitchen tools and appliances?

JS: A Vitamix (gotta have my morning smoothies and my evening cherry ice cream—which is just made out of cherries and cocoa powder); a pressure cooker (I make bean dishes in a fraction of the time it otherwise takes); and my seltzer maker (gotta have my bubbles).

HC: So, what inspires you to stay on track day to day? Do you ever fall off track or lose sight of your goals? And if you do, how do you get back on?

JS: I am motivated to be vegan by animal rights, which I see as a moral imperative. So no, I don’t fall off track, because that would be compromising my ethics, and going against my worldview. Specifically with healthy eating there are definitely times when my diet, which is centered around whole foods, gets a little off-kilter. During those times, I develop cravings for sugar, salt, and refined white flour products. When that happens, I juice fast—which I do regularly (for 3 1/2 years now—it’s how I lost 100 pounds). That helps reboot my system, and my cravings disappear. If a juice fast isn’t imminent, I curb by cravings by increasing my portions (yep), and I make very sure that they are all made up of whole-based foods—heavy on fruits and vegetables, with a delicious homemade sauce on top. That sates me and I might lose my temptations. (Though of course, every now and then, we all should indulge in some delicious vegan concoctions!)

HC: You are a wealth of helpful information! Can you also name one plant-based/vegan magazine, blogger, brand, book and/or documentary we should all know about (besides your lovely self of course).

JS: Vegucated. Hands down.

HC: For our travelers, tell us what city/town do you live in and what are your favorite veg-friendly restaurants and shops in your hood? I bet you have some great suggestions.

JS: I’m lucky enough to live in New York City, where we have well over 100 vegetarian restaurants. I hope you check out the recent video I made, A Vegan Taste of Chinatown

… which goes into some of my favorite vegan restaurants—such as Buddha Bodai (get the steamed lotus buns). I also love Souen (the Soho location) for their macro plate, Lan (for their congee), Candle 79 for their seitan chimichurri, and Cafe Blossom (on Carmine Street) for just about everything (their new chef, Chris Hale, is clearly heaven-sent).

HC: Awesome, I may just have to set up a trip to NYC just for the vegan eats. So tell us, what upcoming or existing projects are you working on?

JS: Along with my partner, animal rights law professor Mariann Sullivan, we keep very busy with Our Hen House. In addition to continuing to produce a new podcast episode each week (this weekend marks our 209th consecutive weekly episode), adding new content to our online magazine every day, and regularly speaking throughout the country, this year has so much more in store. To give you a teaser, this includes: an ebook publishing division, Hen Press, which is coming very soon and will knock your wool-free socks off; a webisode series highlighting brave and remarkable activists, heroes, really; and, perhaps most exciting—and not to spill the beans too much—A NEW TV SHOW!!!!! (And that’s all I’ll say about that for now . . .)

I also have a few publications coming out this year, including a contribution to two anthologies (in 2013 I was lucky enough to be a contributor to Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and the Sexual Politics of Meat (Lantern, 2013).

We have a lot of fun with what we do. Our M.O. is to be “indefatigably positive” as we work to change the world for animals, and I hope that readers do, in fact, join us—and listen to our podcast (which is also on iTunes and Stitcher).

HC: Wow. So many incredible projects in the works. The world is lucky to have you! Anything else you’d YU like to share with us? The soapbox is yours.

JS: The fact is, that looking around at the way most people eat, it’s clear that they’re not eating for health. People may talk a really good game about health, but what they really care about is taste. And decadence. But, as you know, vegans have got that covered, in spades. To taste good vegan food is to love vegan food. The problem is that too many people have never tasted good vegan food. But that’s changing at lightning speed too. The single most important thing we can do for animals is to let people know that caring about animals doesn’t mean the end of pleasure. The single most important thing we can do is to feed them delicious food.

HC: Amen, sister. You nailed it. Thanks so much for taking the time to inspire us and keep up the great work you are doing for us and our animal friends. 

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Meet some more movers and shakers from the YU Should Know Interview Series

YU Should Know: A Plant-Powerful Interview Series from YumUniverse
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Now, I want to hear from YU…
What is your favorite part of this interview with Jasmin?
Tell us with a comment below.

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