Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Interview Series #3: Jasmin Singer

My first interaction with Jasmin Singer was over the phone. I was newly vegan and looking for a place to focus more energy on animal rights issues, so on a whim, I decided to apply for an internship at Farm Sanctuary in their New York Advocacy Department (a huge leap for someone who had never completed an internship in her entire life!).  Somehow, my application made it past a lot of the others, and before I knew it, I received a call from Jasmin, who was Farm Sanctuary's NYC Campaigns Manager at the time. Within moments, we were happily chatting about theater (Jasmin shares a theater background with me), Weight Watchers (so random, but fun to discuss nonetheless), and the internship.

After our lovely talk that week, Jasmin followed up with me to tell me I had the internship if I wanted it. I was elated - my first real chance to help the animals! Sadly, I had to ultimately turn the internship down, because I was working two different jobs at the time and realized I wouldn't be able to give the internship the necessary amount of energy it was due. With a sad heart, I emailed Jasmin the news - and to my surprise, she wrote back the most supportive email, which included information about joining Farm Sanctuary's New York Activist team. After a few months of working busily at my jobs, I decided to join. And the rest is history.

Jasmin is not only an unbelievably kind, funny, honest, and passionate person, but her love for animals runs so deep that it is just a natural part of her.  Her positive energy is infectious, and the amount of work she has already accomplished in her life is nothing short of astonishing (check her bio below if you need convincing). I am honored to know this rock star of a woman and activist, and it gives me a world of pleasure to share her beautiful and touching story with you all. Read on... 

Jasmin Singer is the co-founder of Our Hen House -- a central clearinghouse for all kinds of ideas on how individuals can make change for animals, which she runs along with her partner, animal rights lawyer, Mariann Sullivan. With both a daily blog and a weekly podcast, the two identify opportunities, report on successful activists and enterprises, and brainstorm ideas ranging from the brilliant to the farfetched. From 2007-2010, Jasmin was the campaigns manager for Farm Sanctuary, where she headed up all grassroots advocacy via Farm Sanctuary’s Advocacy Campaign Team. As a writer, she has blogged for Crazy Sexy Life, Civil Eats, Making Hay, VegDAILY, Zaftig Vegan, and others, and she is the current NY Animal Rights Examiner for Examiner.com. Jasmin has contributed several articles to VegNews Magazine -- including one you can find in the current issue, called "(Car)Bon Voyage" -- which explores what's green (and what's mean) about the ecotourism industry. Jasmin's writing has also been seen in Heeb Magazine and Satya Magazine. Her workshops — which have been featured in publications such as TimeOut NY and The Village Voice — have been presented at universities and law schools throughout the country, as well as conferences such as Taking Action for Animals, Farm Sanctuary’s Hoe Down, Let Live Northwest Animal Rights Conference, SUNY Social Justice Conference, and the Institute for Critical Animal Studies North American Conference. In 2009, just before she turned 30, VegNews Magazine named Jasmin one of their “20 Under 30” activists to watch out for. She and Mariann live in New York City with their amazing pit bull, Rose.


Kiss Me, I'm Vegan: What was the turning point in your life that led you to veganism? Was it one huge moment, or a collective group of small moments that changed you?

Jasmin: Though it was seeing footage of factory farming that ultimately "turned" me, there were many instances in my life that led up to my veganism, instances I feel were an integral part of the process.

I had been vegetarian for many years before I was vegan. I went vegetarian when I was a teenager, mainly because I thought meat was "icky," but didn't really give it much thought beyond that (obviously, or I probably would've gone vegan a lot sooner). I was a theatre student and I thought I was very cool. I wore all black, smoked clove cigarettes, and tried really hard to stay on top of anything I deemed even remotely trendy. I think vegetarianism probably fit into that category for me. In fact, when people would ask me about my diet, I would say, "I'm vegetarian -- but not the mean kind!" (Ha ha -- little did I know! No, I'm kidding ...)

Meanwhile, I was actually employed as an AIDS awareness activist, for an educational theatre company. I was heavily involved in that social justice cause, and in many others -- like gay rights and women's rights. It's sadly ironic for me to look back at that now and realize that I was passionately advocating for the reproductive rights of females, yet I was literally consuming the byproducts of the reproductive organs of dairy cows and egg-laying hens -- two unimaginably cruel and horrendously exploitative systems within animal agriculture.

Jasmin (on the right) performing in an AIDS-awareness theatrical production with the theatre company, Nitestar.

Then, when I was in my early twenties (I'm 30 now), through a friend in my theatre company I met a woman (Marisa Miller Wolfson of Kind Green Planet) who was a vegan activist. I remember thinking she was extreme and so oddly different. But I was also completely intrigued by her lifestyle and convictions. She showed me some footage of factory farming, and really took me under her wing. After seeing that footage and being pretty traumatized from it, I thought that I would probably try vegan on for size, yet it still terrified me somehow. Vegan. Vegan. The word had such a funny sound to it. It sounded so ... subversive.

 
Marisa and Jasmin

Then, Marisa introduced me to a bunch of her friends as a "new vegan," and I thought, "Shit. I'm a vegan. It's official." In retrospect, it was absolutely the best decision I could've ever made -- or the best one a good friend could've made for me! After learning about animal issues more thoroughly, I quickly realized that there was no other way to be. I began to see veganism not as a "personal choice," as I had thought of it when I was vegetarian; rather, as a moral imperative. Once I was exposed to the ugly underbelly of factory farming, there was no way I could take part in supporting it. And once I got over the initial shock of the lifestyle switch from vegetarian to vegan -- a shock that was 100% self-induced, and a tad overdramatic -- I absolutely loved it. There was clearly no turning back.

Jasmin with cow Phoenix at Farm Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of www.farmsanctuary.org. Photo taken by Connie Pugh.

KMIV: What have been the greatest rewards of your vegan lifestyle? What have been the greatest challenges?

Jasmin: Though I am tempted to say that the greatest reward has been feeling so amazingly good about not contributing to animal cruelty, and knowing that I am living in accordance with my ethical beliefs -- I tend to think that maybe being an ethical person shouldn't be so easily characterized as "rewarding." It's almost like saying that I feel really good about not beating up the old woman on the bus. Some things are just a given -- or at least, they should be.

It's very rewarding to have the honor of knowing the absolutely most amazing, awesome, and heroic people I know. There are such GOOD people who are part of the animal rights movement. I'm humbled, constantly, every day, to know these people -- to call them my friends and my colleagues.

But specifically, the greatest reward has been my relationship with my life partner -- the incredibly brilliant, talented, kind, funny, and sharp Mariann Sullivan. Though in many ways our relationship was unlikely at first, our worldview was so completely compatible, and we just clicked in a way I had never experienced before. Mariann has been in the movement for a long time. She is an animal rights law professor, writer (mostly on animal law issues), and soon-to-be Chair of the Animal Law Committee of the ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section. Though I had met (and dated!) several non-vegans before I was with Mariann, it was just so -- refreshing! -- to be with somebody who gets me and gets it so deeply. And to work alongside her with Our Hen House has truly been a coup!

Mariann and Jasmin

As for the greatest challenges, well, it's pretty hard sometimes to sleep at night knowing that 286 chickens die every second in this country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's even harder when you see people you love consuming animal products. Sometimes it seems impossible to know where to put that. They say that ignorance is bliss, but I don't think that's true at all. Still, sometimes it can be really infuriating to see people "unknowingly" contributing to animal cruelty -- the very thing we work so hard to fight.

For me, that's where activism comes along, and those moments are exactly when I try really hard to remember that embracing a vegan lifestyle doesn't begin and end with animals. To me, being a vegan means extending compassion to people, too, even though sometimes, I have to get through a lot of pain to find that place.

If I didn't have activism, I would seriously go berserk. That's one of about a thousand reasons why it's completely necessary for everyone to get active for animals -- and no one way is too small. Everything we do makes a difference, and not only does it have the power to preserve our own longevity in this movement, but given the hideous state of animal welfare today, it really is imperative that we step up to the plate. This is something I talked about in a recent workshop I gave, called "From Veganism to Activism."


KMIV: You recently shifted from working as Farm Sanctuary's Campaigns Manager to creating your own website, Our Hen House. How did you get originally get involved in Farm Sanctuary's work? What led you to pursue a new direction with Our Hen House?

Jasmin: The three years I spent at Farm Sanctuary were, without question, the three best ones of my life.

In early 2007, Mariann and I visited the sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY. It was a life-changing experience. I remember feeling the same way the first time I had visited Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and Eastern Shore Sanctuary the year prior. To spend time with a rescued farm animal is an experience unlike anything else. They are each so different, so special. I immediately fell in love with the chickens -- who I found to be social, brave, and funny animals.

Jasmin and Camila (the chicken) at Farm Sanctuary. Photo courtesy of www.farmsanctuary.org. Photo by Connie Pugh.

When I got back to New York City, I eagerly agreed to coordinate Farm Sanctuary's NYC Walk for Farm Animals, which is a massive fund and awareness raiser. That volunteer job led to a position at Farm Sanctuary, coordinating activist efforts. I soon was organizing national campaigns, and I also became the national Walk for Farm Animals coordinator. While I was at Farm Sanctuary, I got the chance to work with some of my mentors -- including Gene Baur, the co-founder and president. I also had the opportunity to meet activists from around the globe. From that vantage point, I really got to see, first hand, what incredible and diverse work activists everywhere are doing for the betterment of animals. Though sometimes it feels otherwise, the fact is that we animal activists really are everywhere!

Jasmin Singer emceeing the 2009 NYC Walk. On her right is David Benzaquen.

Jasmin leafleting at Harvard

Last month, I left my job as the campaigns manager at Farm Sanctuary, though I have stayed on in the consultant role (and I continue to lead the monthly NYC activist meetings). Though it was a very difficult decision to leave, I had an unrelenting yearning to start Our Hen House and to invest myself in it fully. When I give workshops, the main point that I always stress is that in order to be the best animal advocate we can be, we need to know what we're good at and find a way to plug that into animal rights. I felt like I was at the point where I needed to do my own thing, and to really use the creativity I felt bubbling beneath my skin in order to create change for animals.

Our Hen House is a central clearinghouse for all kinds of ideas on how individuals can make change for animals. With a daily blog, a weekly podcast, and a video page, we identify opportunities, report on successful activists and enterprises, and brainstorm ideas ranging from the brilliant to the farfetched. That part of it has been really exciting, and even though we've only been up for 2 1/2 months, we've received tons of feedback from people all over, telling us that they got the grant we reported on, or they submitted a pitch for a call for papers that we featured and theirs got chosen for publication, or they were inspired to start scouting out locations for the vegan business they want to open, or (probably the best one), they went vegan!

We have a couple other exciting projects we're working on for Our Hen House, too. Since my background is in the arts, and since I'm totally passionate about the idea of shedding light on amazing creative types who are using their art-form for animals, we'll be starting a video series called "Art of the Animal." We will feature somebody who is doing amazing things for animals in a very creative and artistic way. I'm super-excited about this! We'll also have a virtual reading series, where we'll get an author to read a section of her or his (pro-animal-themed) book, and then answer questions that people submit -- all virtually! We are also at the beginning stages of making Our Hen House a non-for-profit! And, somewhat separately, I am writing a very special children's book, which was inspired by my gorgeous and perfect pit bull, Rose.

Jasmin and Rose

KMIV: What advice would you give someone who is interested in veganism, but afraid of taking the leap?

Jasmin: As you can see from my own process with going vegan, I fully understand that for some people, the idea of going vegan can feel like a huge gestalt shift (oftentimes it is, in fact, a huge gestalt shift), and that can be scary. I understand that you might have initial concerns, sometimes ones that you won't even admit out loud. For some people, going vegan means admitting to yourself that, on some level, you've been lied to your whole life. Milk does not do a body good. Cows in California are not actually happy (well, the ones at Farm Sanctuary probably are). "Humane meat" is an oxymoron. These are things you might not have known. Really owning that is upsetting.

But that was the past.

Here are some other truths: In case you haven't noticed, the United States of America is not protein-deficient. Vegans are not protein-deprived. You do not need animal products to get protein. You can thrive on a healthy vegan diet (in fact, the American Dietetic Association recommends it). There are millions and millions of things you can eat as a vegan -- and you will not feel as though you are sacrificing anything (except cruelty). Vegan food is delicious, delectable, and healthy. After about 6 weeks (the amount of time it takes your body to get over an addiction -- which animal-based food is), you will no longer crave meat and dairy. The word "vegan" isn't actually scary at all, and there are millions of people who are living healthfully and happily as vegans.

Consuming eggs and dairy are just as "icky" (to use my teenager-word) as consuming meat, and even though you're not eating flesh, you're still supporting an industry that kills animals for their flesh. (Actually, the egg industry -- even the "organic" egg industry -- kills all the male chicks, since there is no economical use for them in the egg industry.)

Also, I'd strongly recommend that anyone considering a vegan lifestyle -- but afraid or reluctant to fully go there -- sign up immediately for Vegan at Heart, which is a project of Kind Green Planet, and is created by my personal vegan-maker, Marisa Miller Wolfson. Vegan at Heart is a free online coaching program for people who are vegan at heart but not necessarily in practice.

Lastly, I can tell you without hesitation that going vegan will be the best thing you've ever done in your entire life, and it will open doors for you that you didn't even know were there.

KMIV: Okay - you're stuck on a desert island with three vegan food items - what are they?

Jasmin: See, this is kind of unfair, because I just realized that the first answer I wanted to give was already given last week by David Benzaquen. (By the way, remember before when I was telling you that working at Farm Sanctuary allowed me to work with amazing activists? David was one of them. AND he used to be my intern!)

You know what? I'm going to use my answer anyway, even though David obviously stole it from my brain. Sacred Chow's raw marinated kale. It tastes like vegetable heaven with a hint of mustard.

Next: S'nice cupcakes. In fact, I just ordered 50 for Mariann's upcoming birthday party! And by the way, S'nice is opening a new location about a block from our apartment. So long, life as I know it ... .

Lastly, homemade Parma. I realize that this is kind of a disgusting choice, given my other two foods, and since I won't have any toast to put it on, but I could put homemade Parma on cardboard and find it delicious. Parma is this sprinkly stuff that tastes cheesy. You can get it packaged at the health food store, and that's all fine and good, but the homemade Parma is where it's at! The recipe is from The Yellow Rose Cookbook by Joanna Vaught. Incidentally, that book is published by Herbivore, which is kind of the most magical place on earth.

So, Lindsay, I'm intrigued. This deserted island that you speak of ... is there WiFi?



 Many thanks to Jasmin Singer for making this interview possible. To learn more about Jasmin and Our Hen House, please visit www.ourhenhouse.com.

12 comments:

Plate+Simple said...

Wow. I love reading stories like this! So inspiring! It's so interesting to learn how each person finds their way to veganism. Jasmin sounds like a kindred spirit indeed.

Lauren said...

Great interview! Thanks for all you do, Jasmin.

Alison Cole said...

Awesome, amazing interview!! Very inspiring to read about Jasmin.

CurlyLocks said...

An inspiring interview! Jasmine is an energetic, intelligent, and dedicated person.

Anonymous said...

Jasmin gets her message out loud and clear. She has converted many members of her family to veganism and we are grateful to embrace this lifestyle choice and to support her strongly- felt activist advocacy of animal rights.
—her aunt

Myra Wolf said...

"That's one of about a thousand reasons why it's completely necessary for everyone to get active for animals -- and no one way is too small".
That is a powerful statement! Many people think if they can't do something big, why bother. Alot of little things put together makes it big. Love it and it is so true.
Jasmine, both you and Marianne are so astounding and had the interview not been here for me to read, I could have not even known about the two of you. Now I feel I do..what great work both of you are doing! Thank you for sharing it!
It has been a sheer pleasure to learn about your life and the life of Marianne. I feel honored to know all of this about both of you.
Thank you so much Lindsay for the interview...what a mountain of information to learn about two women I have never met!
And...thank you for the video welcome to Kiss Me..lol. It took be back to when you were six and would talk into the video camera..basically like you just did..unrehearsed, no make-up...just raw Lindsay. I love it honey..pure and sweet. See you SOON! xoxo

Lindsay said...

Thanks everyone for such thoughtful responses. Jasmin is a truly amazing human being, and it has been so awesome to do this piece on her! :)

C said...

Thanks for the great interview!!

Andréa N. said...

Great post. And the video is awesome. I just twitted it. :) Jasmin rocks.

jasmin said...

you guys make me blush and make me all tingly and happy. thank you so much for your sweet amazing words, and thank you for reading this. lindsay, your'e an amazing person -- thank you for ... everything. still blushing ... -jasmin

Lindsay said...

you deserve it, you awesome, rockin lady, you! :)

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