Jasmin Singer is nothing short of a real-life wonder woman. The New York City-based animal advocate and co-founder of Our Hen House somehow found time between producing a half-dozen monthly podcasts. running half-marathons, public speaking engagements, tap-dancing performances, and magazine-writing gigs to pen her fabulous new memoir, Always too Much and Never Enough. The book, which makes its debut February 2, is part coming of age story, part juice-driven weight-loss journey, and everything a reader could wish for in an autobiography: raw, honest, funny, and brave. (And--if we're being honest--a bit of a tearjearker. Have a hanky handy!) If you haven't already ordered your copy, you'll want to after getting to know Jasmin in this interview, in which she opens up about being bullied, the importance of self-care, and the value of living authentically.
To describe you as "multi-faceted" would be a major understatement. Writer, runner, tap dancer, podcaster, non-profit director, animal advocate, public speaker. What's your secret to balancing passions with callings?
The vast majority of what I do is driven by my life’s mission to change the world for animals. I’m lucky enough to work for a cause that is my motivation for getting up in the morning, and I’ve found a way of doing it that uses my talents, skills, and interests. That’s really the secret to any kind of advocacy; start with what you’re good at, and what you love, and go from there. That’s how Our Hen House started (we’re now in our seventh year). My wife and I wanted to create a hub for people to find their way to change the world for animals. And since we eat, sleep, and breathe animal rights, in order to be in it for the long run, self-care is extremely important. That’s where running and tap-dancing come in for me. Nothing is sustainable without an outlet--a place for you to sweat it out, and a place where you can just have fun. My running team, Strong Hearts Vegan Power, is made up of three dozen vegan runners, and all of the races we do raise funds for animal organizations (the last time around it was actually benefiting Our Hen House), but my tap-dancing is something I do just because I like the sound of my feet making noise. I’m a better version of myself, and a better activist, when I am taking good care of myself. I learned that I can’t possibly show up for animals if I’m not showing up for myself too. And even though I’m making it sound like I have all of this figured out, I don’t. It’s very much a day-to-day evolution.
In Always Too Much and Never Enough, you share some heartbreaking anecdotes about being bullied. In what ways have you turned those negative experiences into positives?
When I first became an activist, in my early twenties, it was in the AIDS-awareness movement. Shortly thereafter, my career expanded to also include--in fact, to focus on-- animal rights. Those movements, as well as the LGBTQ movement and a variety of other social justice causes I care about deeply, are all an extension of the same thing for me: using my power and privilege to speak up for the underdogs. For me, as a former bullied kid and young adult, that kind of speaking truth to power is close to home. And even though I was bullied for being fat and different, in my memory there are always some very special individuals who spoke up on my behalf when my voice wasn’t loud enough to be heard. No social justice movement moves forward without allies. In the case of animal rights, allies make up the entirety of the movement. So devoting my life to advocacy is a natural progression, especially since I, too, have been hurt by those who, for whatever reason, like to push others around.
For those not already familiar with Our Hen House, would you explain your manifesto?
Our Hen House is a multimedia hub for people who want to change the world for animals. We are known best for our award-winning weekly Our Hen House podcast, but in the past year we have also expanded and now also have two more podcasts: The Teaching Jasmin How to Cook Vegan Podcast, and The Animal Law Podcast. I host the Our Hen House podcast with my wife, animal law professor Mariann Sullivan. Each episode (and there are hundreds) includes biting commentary, current events from the world of animal rights, a hilarious look at what ludicrous things animal agriculture is saying about veganism and animal rights, and two interviews with those changing the world for animals, the first with anyone from celebrities (we just interviewed Russell Simmons), to artists, to grassroots advocates, to writers, to you name it. And the second interview is a review of a movie or product that is new to our movement. We have a lot of fun and like to call ourselves indefatigably positive.
Your superpower is the ability to manifest the things you desire most. What's on the manifest agenda for 2016?
I hope very much that Always Too Much and Never Enough can reach a wide and varied audience. My story is one that can reach anyone who has ever felt different, or who has ever questioned assumptions. It’s also the perfect story for anyone who has struggled with food or body image--as I certainly have. I hope that people pick up this book because they want to read a coming-of-age story about a formerly bullied girl who finds herself and discovers that it gets better, or because they want to read a nitty-gritty weight loss memoir. But, since this is my story, the reader will soon be witness to the ways the animal agriculture industry has betrayed us, each of us. For me, it wasn’t until I began to untangle all of those ways I had been betrayed by food that I started to find my own personal authenticity. I hope that as my readers learn about the truth behind closed doors, they will be awakened to the plight of animals, and discover that fighting animal cruelty, and cruelty of all kinds, is an extension of their personal truths too.
Describe a day in your life.
When I was writing my book, I was a lot more regimented than I have been lately, so keep that in mind. Today, I woke up at around 7:00 a.m. I live in a tiny studio apartment in Northern Manhattan. I made coffee for me and my wife, and drank it while watching a cartoon on Netflix (we try to start every day with a cartoon). I delved into some podcast editing shortly thereafter--this week I am editing that Russell Simmons interview. There was a lot of uploading and downloading, and emailing the various amazing people who work remotely for Our Hen House. I have to admit that I skipped breakfast today, which I try not to do, but my morning was getting away from me. Then, I put on my running clothes and went for a quick half-hour run. I got home and quickly got dressed because I was meeting a friend of mine, who is also a trusted advisor and fellow writer, for a lunch meeting. We went to Candle Café West on the Upper West Side, and I enjoyed a market plate with tofu, greens, brown rice, and Brussels sprouts (along with another coffee). I headed downtown for a quick meeting with my publicist, and then settled into a a café in Chelsea where I’ve been answering emails about the book, about the two podcast episodes I’m publishing this week, about bookstores where I’ll be speaking in just a few weeks, and about upcoming interviews I’m doing as part of my book tour. While I’m doing that, I’m sipping on a cup of peppermint tea. I admit that I’m getting kind of hungry, so I’m considering finding a smoothie somewhere. This evening, I’m stopping into the launch party for Michael Greger’s new book, How Not to Die. I’ll have postcards for Always Too Much and Never Enough on hand, shameless self-promoter that I am. I will look forward to sampling the foods and drinks that will be floating around there. I’m meeting my wife there. We’ll head back uptown afterwards, and if we’re still hungry I’ll throw together a simple stir-fry. Then, we’ll record the news segment for this weekend’s podcast, and I’ll confirm all of my appointments for tomorrow. I’ll probably fall asleep cuddling with my dog and watching a renovation show on HGTV.
Oof! That's a lot of action in one day. Do you ever get stressed out? If so, how do you manage it?
Since my default is to get stressed out fairly easily, I have been working extremely hard on managing that, but it’s not easy. There are always a lot of balls in the air, and since I’m not only about to launch my book--which is so exciting but also has many moving parts--I’m also running a non-profit (which means a lot of fundraising) and producing six podcasts episodes a month. But although those things stress me out, I feel incredibly lucky, emboldened, and excited about the work I do. I get stressed out by relationship issues and money issues, same as everybody else. And I get really stressed out right before boarding a plane! I have been trying to manage my stress by focusing a lot on gratitude, and understanding that I’m in a period of great evolution right now, and evolution can’t possibly happen without some struggle. I try to do very basic forms of self-care, including running, tap-dancing, drinking water, and having a safe group of close friends and comrades who not only have my back, but know I have theirs.
What’s your favorite travel destination and why?
Mariann and I recently visited Paris, which was as romantic and electric as I remember it being from when I visited as a 21-year-old, 15 years ago. I loved the familiarity of the hustle and bustle, the accessibility of the subway (even for a non-French speaker), and I really appreciated how completely LGBTQ-friendly it was! I kept trying to drag Mariann to gay bars. I was also impressed by the underground force of the animal rights movement there, and by how much more veg-friendly it was this time than the last time I was there. I love visiting big cities more than anything, and I find it refreshing to disappear into that particular kind of anonymity that really comes through when you’re in a country in which you don’t speak the language. Plus, there was Hank Vegan Burger, which is my favorite place ever.
How do you relax?
I really value person-to-person encounters with people who I find positive, smart, sensitive, interesting, and openhearted. Sometimes these are friends of mine, and sometimes they are quick encounters with strangers. I love having late night conversations with people whose brains I admire. I am a romantic, and I love finding the romance in people, places, and moments. I love sipping on whiskey while my tap-dance teacher tells me about meeting Gene Kelley. I love jogging with my friend Michael as he works through issues he’s having writing his one-man show. I love having an inspired, early morning conversation with Mariann, who is the wisest human I have ever known, and watching her as she lights up talking about the latest animal rights case, but then stops midway to sing along with the Frank Sinatra song playing from our record player. I guess my favorite way to relax is by leaning into other’s goodness.
Describe your personal style.
I say in my book that Punky Brewster has long been my style icon, and I think I stand by that. I’m quirky, and I firmly believe in the power of thick black eyeliner. I’m dykey but femme--my friend calls me a “Chapstick lesbian” because I don’t do lipstick, nor do I do heels, but I have an Oxford shoe collection to rival anybody’s. I’m usually wearing patterned dresses from thrift stores. I’m heavily tattooed and people tend to think I’m a lot younger than I am. My hair is jet black, but is rapidly graying, so I guess the days of being asked if I’m a student are almost behind me. I love a good hair product and I loathe scratchy clothes. I try very hard to make sure that all of my clothes are ethically-sourced, which means I’ve become a master thrifter.
Who is going to play you in the cinematic version of Always Too Much and Never Enough, and who will be the supporting cast?
I think it’s a really great opportunity for Pink to make her film debut. Dianne Keaton will play Mariann, because--like Mariann--she has that sexy, quirky, buttoned-up professor thing going. Jamie Lee Curtis will play my beautiful mother. And my pit bull Rose will be played by none other than my pit bull Rose. (She wants top billing.)
As you head off on your first big book tour, what city are you looking forward to most?
San Francisco has always been deeply embedded in my heart for reasons I don’t think I fully understand, so I think that’s what I’m most excited about.
You are living a dream life, doing work you're passionate about and getting paid to express yourself and your ideas. What words of advice would you give to someone who dreams of becoming a published writer?
The truth is, I’m not sure I have any idea. I feel so lucky to have landed this book deal, and every time I try to assess how this came to be for me, I’m led to a complex mix of luck and workaholism. I think that what I did right is be relentlessly truthful about my story, and people like to get to know honest and flawed people who are willing to bleed all over a page. No project is worth writing unless it reflects a journey of authenticity, so start with the full truth, even if that feels too vulnerable. The other thing is that your project won’t write itself, so be regimented about your craft. I wrote my book every morning from 6-8 a.m. over a coffee that my incredibly supportive wife made me. Routine matters. Persistence matters. And, I must add, having a platform (as I have with Our Hen House) matters when it comes to getting published in any kind of major way. My publisher knew that I had a built-in audience, thanks to the work I put into Our Hen House, and they knew that I also had the interest and ability to do a book tour and stop at nothing to sell this book and tell my story to those who, I hope, will be able to identify with it.
"My story is one that can reach anyone who has ever felt different, or who has ever questioned assumptions. It’s also the perfect story for anyone who has struggled with food or body image. "
"No project is worth writing unless it reflects a journey of authenticity, so start with the full truth, even if that feels too vulnerable."
The Super Snappy Seven
Always Too Much and Never Enough is available for preorder on Amazon.com