Jasmin Singer, Always Too Much and Never Enough
Jasmin Singer is the co-host of the award-winning weekly Our Hen House podcast and had a two-year stint co-hosting the Our Hen House TV show. Jasmin is the co-founder and Executive Director of Our Hen House, a nonprofit multimedia hub working to change the world for animals. Also with Our Hen House, she produces an online magazine (as the editor as well as a regular contributor) and a video production unit. She is a regular public speaker on the subjects of veganism and activism, and travels throughout the country (and beyond) to give workshops and keynotes at venues such as conferences, Vegetarian Food Fests, law schools, and universities. Her work has been featured in various mainstream media outlets, and she has extensive experiences on both sides of the microphone. Jasmin has a Masters in Experiential Health and Healing (The Graduate Institute), and a Holistic Health Certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and a BFA in Acting from Pace University.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, everybody. Hi. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to All About Food. It’s All About Food. Yay. Man, I’m looking forward to today. I can’t even believe it’s Tuesday already. Just seemed like I was doing this last week just a moment ago. But we’re back, and this is always a fun time for me. Talking about my favorite subject: food. And connecting with so many wonderful people on this planet who have great messages to share.
And this is an opportunity where we get to do what, everybody? We get to tune in love. We’re live; we’re tuning in live, and we’re tuning in love. So thanks for tuning in.
I am very comfortable here. I’m in the studio. It’s warm and dry. It’s all sloshy and wet with snow melting outside –fortunately, it’s not too cold– and I’m going to sit back and relax. I hope you do too.
I have brought with me my Takeya glass bottle, and in it, it has jasmine tea which I chose in honor of my first guest: Jasmin Singer. She’s the co-host of the weekly Our Hen House podcast, and she’s the co-founder and executive director of Our Hen House: a non-profit multimedia hub working to change the world for animals. She has a new book out called Always Too Much and Never Enough, and we’re going to be talking quite a bit about that today. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Jasmin.
Jasmin Singer: Hi, Caryn. It’s so exciting to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. Well, I’m going to sit my jasmine tea…
Jasmin Singer: I’ll get some caryn tea.
Caryn Hartglass: Caryn tea! Very good. What does that taste like?
Jasmin Singer: I’m sure it’s sugary sweet like you. Without the sugar, of course. It would be like mildly sweet but-
Caryn Hartglass: Of course. Naturally sweet.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Like date sugar. Little caramelized vanilla. Yum. Okay, I’m going to have to come up with a caryn tea –there you go– because I’m a big tea drinker.
Jasmin Singer: I am as well, and I appreciate the jasmine tea of the hour. I think it should be mandated that whenever I’m interviewed the host is drinking it. Or at least having jasmine rice.
Caryn Hartglass: Jasmine tea and jasmine rice! There you go. I love tea; I talk about tea a lot. I know we’re getting a little distracted, and we haven’t even gotten started. But that’s okay. I buy my teas in bulk, and they’re organic. And it’s a very beautiful process. My listeners know I don’t like teabags! I don’t like brewing tea in little panyhose sacks. Well, they’re things we don’t think about that I like people to think about. And make every-
Jasmin Singer: Well, you have those silver kind of aluminum tea grabber things, and then you brew it in that. ‘Cause I feel like the tea always falls through the hole.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I think mine are stainless.
Jasmin Singer: Okay.
Caryn Hartglass: And the mesh is quite small. And you can use bamboo. There are all different kinds of ways to strain it. Or you don’t even have to strain it. You can just have the tea sitting in the bottom of the pot, and then carefully decant it or pour off. There’s lots of options.
Jasmin Singer: I’ve never done anything carefully in my life. I’m not sure I should start with a hot liquid.
Caryn Hartglass: And the last thing I want to say about tea is after reading Dr. Greger’s How Not to Die… He talks about cold brewing tea and how there are so many more nutrients in the tea when you cold brew it. I’m looking forward to this summer to doing that. I’m not quite ready in the wintertime to cold brew my tea. I like my tea hot.
Jasmin Singer: I didn’t know there was such a thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh my goodness, there’s just so many things going on out there. And it’s All About Food. On your story: you wrote about a very brave, courageous book sharing a lot about your life.
Jasmin Singer: Thank you for calling it brave and courageous. I get a little nervous because all of the interviews I’ve done recently they’re like, “Wow! You told everything!” And I’m all like, “Oh my god! What did I do?”
Caryn Hartglass: Well, people like that. People like to be voyeurs and like to hear kinds of intimate things about people. I want to think that they can relate to some of that. So my first question is: did you write this for any particular person in mind? Did you have someone in mind when you wrote this?
Jasmin Singer: I think that my book, Always Too Much and Never Enough, is really written for anybody who ever felt that they didn’t quite belong or that they were on some kind of quest to become a better, more authentic version of themselves. Hopefully, most of us listening to this network –certainly on your show– would fall into that category. It’s not written for people who necessarily want to lose weight. Though I’m sure a lot of people will think that because they will think it’s just a weight loss memoir. But rather my book is a story of finding personal authenticity.
For me, that was a roundabout journey that started with discovering animal agriculture. Picking apart all the ways that it had been betraying me. And once I realized that, was I able to look further into the ways I was portraying myself as well. That began with food. So it’s appropriate that I’m on your show today because it reminds-
Caryn Hartglass: ‘Cause It’s All About Food.
Jasmin Singer: It is all about food.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Even though this book is so much more than weight, let’s get weight off the plate.
Jasmin Singer: Nice one.
Caryn Hartglass: I just made that up! Okay, let’s talk about weight for just a moment. Because I think people that have issues with food, and I think most people have food issues, unfortunately, on this planet. It’s a reflection of so many things going on now in our lives. As a result, some people are weighing more; some people are weighing less. Not only is it a reflection of our own emotional issues, but it’s also a reflection of our food system today –which is a disaster nightmare.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: You had a number of different things going on. So you had your mom who was always dieting. Even though you described her as the thin mom who was always slim and fashionable.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, she’s still definitely is that way.
Caryn Hartglass: Slim and fashionable.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, I was always trying to squeeze my chubby self into my mother’s very thin, beautiful and glamorous shadow. She would always try to shed those extra few pounds through means that were very popular in the 1980s when I was growing up. I would trail behind her as she would go to her Weight Watchers meetings, her Jenny Craig meetings, and her Nutrisystem meetings.
I was always playing Tetris on my Game Boy behind her. The kind of fat kid, wondering when we could go leave the meeting and go stuff our faces at the pizza place down the street. Because that was always the routine after she would weigh-in.
That really started me on this path of wondering why my very stereotypically beautiful and very healthy mother saw herself as so flawed. Wouldn’t she see me as that way? Of course, she didn’t. She thought I was lovely.
But it ran much deeper than that. And I began to be very, very bullied at school. Eventually, I was not just playing Tetris at these meetings. I started my own cycle of starting to lose weight and then going to Luigi’s to stuff my face with pizza. It was a trajectory I’m sure a lot of your listeners can identify with.
Caryn Hartglass: The voices we start to hear in our head started probably before we were born. The things that are said around us by our parents and then everyone else. It takes a tremendous amount of work –a strategy almost– to rescript those voices.
Jasmin Singer: That’s really beautifully said. I think that if we’re lucky and honest with ourselves, we’re always rescripting them.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Jasmin Singer: We’re on a constant evolution. I was just being interviewed this morning, and the reporter of this paper said, “So you know now. You can retrain yourself. You don’t go to those things you went to as a kid ‘cause you know better now.” What she was referring to was, do I use food now to try to fix all of my life’s problems? Do I use it as my best friend? As my lover and my confidant?
I said to her it’s not like it’s gone. It’s still a part of my story. It’s an ongoing evolution. But I do feel like through the process of becoming vegan –a healthy vegan, and, of course, always being based in ethical veganism– and ultimately finding my own truths and authenticity only after I shed nearly a hundred pounds have I been able to retrain myself.
But that doesn’t mean suddenly I’m a new person. I’m still the same fat kid, on a certain level, that I was in 1984. Trailing behind my mom, playing my Game Boy.
Caryn Hartglass: I was going to ask you about this later, but you just brought it up. So I’ll stick with it. And that is: how do you see yourself today? Do you still feel inside that there’s extra weight?
Jasmin Singer: Wow.
Jasmin Singer: I think I’m constantly questioning what it is that I actually look like. On some level, I’ll always be that fat kid that I just mentioned. And on some level, I don’t have body dysmorphia at all; and I understand that I’m just a very average sized person. I am healthy which is what matters more to me than my actual size.
But because I was treated so differently by the world once I lost the weight –which is something I write about a lot in my book, Always Too Much and Never Enough, and it’s something I’ve written about in other articles as well– it really changed my perception not only of myself, but of the world. I began to realize how arbitrarily celebrated thinner people are and, on the flip side of that, how unfortunately we treat people and other beings who don’t necessarily conform to what we think is acceptable.
For me, I feel very comfortable in my skin. But there’s always a piece of me that will identify as the fat kid.
Caryn Hartglass: Humans are pretty screwed up. There’s no question about it. We treat everybody, for the most part this global generically, pretty horribly for one reason or another. If they’re not like us, if they’re overweight, if they’re different color, if they have hair jewelry or whatever that we don’t like. It’s really a pretty cruel world.
I’m thinking too it’s not just people who are overweight. You hear all these stories about these top models who are super thin, and they never think that they’re beautiful enough. And yet they’re stunning. It’s just amazing how we can choose to hear voices that are going to knock us down or hold us up. Then again, it’s all about rescripting and hearing what you want to hear.
Jasmin Singer: I talk about finding a safe space in yourself and in your home. That was something that came apparent to me when I stopped stuffing my face and my heart with Oreos, rows of Saltines, Cheez-its, and everything cheese that you could possibly imagine.
As I replaced that with the more authentic self that was just begging to come out, I realized that I had the resources inside myself. And I didn’t need to look for it in false places. Like in the wrong lovers or in the wrong foods. It was an interesting journey.
Caryn Hartglass: This authenticity, I want to get to that. But I want to touch on a couple more things. One is it was sad and funny how you talked about going to Weight Watchers, and you lost enough weight that you could work for Weight Watchers. But then you needed to go on Jenny Craig.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s like the ultimate in not being authentic.
Jasmin Singer: Oh my god. Yeah, when I was in my early twenties, I was an aspiring actress, we’ll say, in New York City. I did not really get many roles; there weren’t many roles for me. I became a little bit enamored with this casting director who was teaching a class that I took on monologues.
She told me I needed to lose a lot of weight, which of course shattered me. But she was right. That was a big reason, so to speak, why I wasn’t getting roles. So she asked me if I wanted to join Weight Watchers with her, and I very nonchalantly said, “Yeah, sure.” Of course, inside I was petrified ‘cause I had grown up on Weight Watchers going up and down, up and down. But I joined, partly because I was still closeted to myself at the time and didn’t realize that a big impetus for me was that I was trying to impress her. ‘Cause I was hugely crushing on her.
I lost enough weight that I was able to get a job there, but I kind of finagled my way through that because I still weighed too much for the Under 25 category that I was in. That they considered a normal weight. I was 150 and I’m 5’4”. It was okay to be a senior citizen and weigh that at the age that I was, which was 24.
So I got a job, and I was weighing people in. I was suddenly that person who held these women’s lives in their hands. Or so they felt. They would take off their hat, their scarf, their earrings –anything that they could– as I told them that they had gained or lost .2 ounces.
In order to keep my job, I needed to go to regular weigh-ins for the staff. But I was gaining weight again, so I kept skipping my staff weigh-ins. Finally, I was cornered. “Jasmin, you haven’t done your weigh-in in a few months.” And I said, “Oh, yeah. You’re right. I’ll go.”
But I knew that I was screwed. Partly because I was eating lots of candy. I was binging on Tuesday nights. Tuesday night was my binge night. It was all very disordered. I had not yet gotten to the systemic reason behind my over-consumption and my inappropriate relationship with eating. So I did what I figured my mother would do and joined Jenny Craig to lose the weight.
Jasmin Singer: You know, it’s so sad. I was just about vegan; I went vegan later that year but I wasn’t a vegan yet. I was a vegetarian. At the time Jenny Craig, which gives you all of these foods that are already prepared, only had one vegetarian option. Maybe two. So that was all I ate while I was on Jenny Craig, while I was working for Weight Watchers. Like if you opened my cabinets, that would be it.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s not cheap either.
Jasmin Singer: No, no. I think my mother paid because she was really excited that I chuckling] wanted to lose weight.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. And then there’s a happy –I don’t want to say ending, but maybe– a happy new beginning where you found plants, and all these wonderful things happened for you.
Jasmin Singer: Right. I became a vegetarian when I was about 19. When I was a theatre student living in Philadelphia. I did it mainly because I was seeking an identity. I used to introduce myself as “vegetarian, but not the mean kind” which I think I was referring to vegans. Little did I know that my career would be as a professional vegan basically.
When I was 24, right after that whole Weight Watchers incident happened, a friend of mine showed me some incidents of factory farming. I didn’t yet realize how utterly oppressed these animals that we exploited for their byproducts were. Namely in the egg industry and the dairy industry. I connected with –as I heard that you do, Caryn– a lot to my own personal feminism and my own experience feeling violated. Feeling as though my own female reproductive parts had been violated. It was something I didn’t feel like I could take part of anymore. So I went vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: Yay!
Jasmin Singer: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: And you’ve done a lot more than that. Ha! You haven’t just gone vegan. You’ve gone healthy vegan and you’re sharing this message with many, many people.
Jasmin Singer: I appreciate that. I didn’t go healthy vegan immediately. In fact, I gained a lot of weight when I went vegan because I once again simply replaced my negative body shaming, my disordered eating mentality with the vegan version. I almost felt it was my moral imperative to go try every vegan cupcake, vegan pizza, vegan brownie that New York City had to offer.
Jasmin Singer: I was also working as an animal rights activist. I almost had a kind of “this is what I do to take care of myself” attitude about it. But that was wrong.
Because what I really should have been doing –and I came to learn when I was 30 and I finally did it– was feeding myself first. Taking care of my own animal rights in order to most effectively advocate for non-human animals.
So when I was 30, I was told I was on my way to heart disease. I was a vegan at the time, of course, and I was shocked. I weighed in at the 220s, and I was very achy all the time. I had adult onset acne. Had depression frequently. I was just tired, lethargic, never really felt well. I would get boils. It was bad. I just couldn’t believe it. I never expected the words “heart disease” to come out of my doctor’s mouth to me. Ever.
That was around the time somebody showed me another documentary that changed my life which was Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. It was about a man who restored himself to health from the power of juicing. I began juice fasting while I was eating. In between juice fasting, I went back to a very wholesome, unprocessed diet.
I was following a lot of the eat to live literature at the time, and my pounds melted off. The impetus was not weight loss; it was physical and mental health.
Caryn Hartglass: Hmm. Well, you said something important and I’m going to repeat it in my own words which is: if you want to make a difference and be an activist, you have to take care of yourself first. You cannot do the work, you really can’t even live successfully with your own life unless you are number one.
People talk about being selfish, and I think it’s really important to be selfish when you take care of yourself. Because then you can live your life to the fullest, and you can make a positive difference in any direction you want to go. You can’t do it if you’re fat, sick and nearly dead.
Jasmin Singer: I have a friend. I was talking to her about something and I said, “I probably sound really self-centered.” And she said, “Isn’t that a funny expression? Self-centered. Shouldn’t we be centered around ourself?” It was kind of another way of saying what you’re saying now. I was like, “Yeah!”
Of course, you want to be a kind, generous person. But we should have a degree of self-care that supersedes all of that. Because we’re not going to be anything for anyone else unless we are paying attention to our body’s needs and our heart’s needs. To me, the best way to do that is through a healthy vegan diet. That to me is the most ethically sound. That to me is an extension of my worldview. But it’s not only an extension of my worldview about the treatment of other animals; it’s extension of my worldview of kindness to my own self as well.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to go talk about a moment about juicing. I’m a big proponent of juicing. I know that green juice was a part of saving my life when I went through advanced ovarian cancer almost ten years ago. Whoo-hoo-hoo!
Jasmin Singer: Wow. Congrats.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. And, you know, it’s all about being selfish.
Jasmin Singer: It’s All About Food.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s All About Food! I’ve been a vegan for almost twenty-eight years, so I had already been a pretty healthy vegan. But that’s a whole ‘nother story. But juicing is a really important thing and fasting can be important too. That reminds me of something in your book where you’re talking about directing West Side Story at a camp for one summer. You decided after being so bullied to actually… It sounded like a water fast almost, but it wasn’t. It was actually pretty dangerous. I would like just to kind of clarify the difference between healthy fasting and not healthy fasting.
Jasmin Singer: You know you’re so funny. You’re so good at asking questions.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you.
Jasmin Singer: You’re just going through all of the hard parts.
Jasmin Singer: That was a very painful moment in my life. Yeah, I was not fasting. Later in my life, ten years later, I was fasting. But at the time that was much more of an anorexic mentality, and it didn’t last for that long.
That was indeed one summer, but I had a terrible attitude about the whole thing. It was coming from a place of sickness, physically and mentally. It was because –like I said at the beginning of this interview– I tend to not be too careful about these things. I tend to be always too much and never enough.
At that moment in time, I was directing West Side Story at a sleep away camp, and I was being so bullied by my peers that I felt this was the only bit of control that I had. Of course, it’s not control at all.
I stopped eating. But I was still having a lot of coffee with creamer ‘cause I wasn’t vegan yet. I was really falling apart. My periods stopped, my hair fell out –I had really long hair at the time and this huge chunk of it fell out right in the front. I really want to make the distinction between that –which was anorexia– and healthy fasting.
I’m also a very strong proponent for fasting. I think it’s a great way to heal our bodies. Not just juicing but water fasting, which I have done as well. And I don’t think that everyone who comes from a background of disordered eating as I had should go the fasting route or even the juicing route. I’m not sure it’s always appropriate for people.
But, for me, I had come around so much mentally and physically that I went in with my eyes opened. I had not only shed the weight, but I had shed the previous misconceptions of health. I went into it from a place of healing. Not a place of disorder.
Caryn Hartglass: So just for clarification on healthy water fasting. I did one for about three weeks in 2000. There are some critical things. If you are ever considering a water fast –I know I’ve talked about this on this program before– it’s not for everyone. It shouldn’t be used for weight loss really. You should be on a healthy diet before you start your fast.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: And you really need to rest. You can’t be directing West Side Story when you’re not eating food.
Jasmin Singer: No. I’m really glad you said that. By the time I did a water fast in my thirties, I was not doing it for weight loss at all. In fact, I was already at a pretty good weight. Of course, you lose weight but you put it back once you start re-incorporating solid foods. But that’s a really good point. I think it can be an important tool, which frequently should be medically supervised.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Okay, we have a few minutes left. Let’s talk about the joyfulness of being vegans. I want to know: what are your favorite foods?
Jasmin Singer: Hmm… my favorite foods… It’s funny. Whenever anyone asks me that, the first thing that comes to mind is chickpeas.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yeah.
Jasmin Singer: But I don’t even eat them that much! So I need to incorporate more joy back into my life! I just love them. I love the kind of meatiness in them –if I’ll just use that word there.
And I am a sucker for macro plate, which is pretty much what I ate for lunch although I made it for myself. Steamed tofu, veggies and brown rice with some tahini drizzled on top and nutritional yeast. Another food of mine are really, lovely, sweet grapes.
Caryn Hartglass: Mmm.
Jasmin Singer: I like concord grapes when they’re in season. That’s such a treat. The season lasts like eight minutes so you get it, it’s like, “Ha! I struck gold!”
Caryn Hartglass: Concord grapes taste like Welch’s. I remember when I was a kid and I had Welch’s grape jelly. I never had a concord grape until years later. I went, “Oh! This is like Welch’s! Yummy! I’m there!”
Jasmin Singer: Right, yeah. My partner and I used to live in Brooklyn about a year ago. We had a small backyard while we were living in Brooklyn. We didn’t even know until they came up, but we had grapes there.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Jasmin Singer: It was really good.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s amazing. Okay. Do you have a sweet treat from time to time? Is there any that you prefer?
Jasmin Singer: I do! Yeah. I really like to make black bean brownies with spinach in them, sweetened by dates. I’ll add fair trade, slavery-free cocoa as the chocolate. I really like making those. People often make fun of me when I talk about it. Then they eat it and they’re like, “This is really good!”
Caryn Hartglass: Exactly. It’s really good. There are so many great things that we can make. From sweets to savory, from whole foods. We’ve kind of gotten on this path as a society of using low-quality ingredients. Salt, sugar and fat. When we get back to whole foods, you can have your cake and eat it too. Put some black beans in it. You don’t even know! It’s just yummy.
Jasmin Singer: You can throw spinach into desserts, and you can just not be able to taste it. It’s similar to making smoothies. You can put so many pieces of spinach in it and not taste it. That is the same with desserts.
Especially with kids. I don’t have kids, but I have a niece who I’m fairly obsessed with. I love to sneak greens into her food without her knowing.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, at some point, she should find out because she should know how wonderful greens are for her.
Jasmin Singer: You’re right.
Caryn Hartglass: And for all of us. Well, Jasmin, thank you for joining us on It’s All About Food.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, and thank you so much for all that you’re doing. And for talking loudly and clearly.
Caryn Hartglass: Not me!
Jasmin Singer: We need more voices like yours.
Caryn Hartglass: Turn the volume up, everybody! Let’s talk about food. Okay, all the best to you and your book, Always Too Much and Never Enough. I’m going to take a break with my jasmine tea. Take care.
Transcribed by Heather T 1/31/2016