Has mezcal always been your drink of choice?
I switched to tequila a few years ago and then I think this is the next step. Yum. This is really smoky.
What inspired you to start the food movement One Part Plant?
I have Stage IV endometriosis. Endo is a disorder where the tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus. My endo moved up to my liver. It’s extremely painful. I had multiple surgeries. It’s not just painful during your period, you have a lot of symptoms throughout the month: painful sex, bad diarrhea, I couldn’t hold urine. I had two different surgeries and my doctor suggested I get a hysterectomy. I was okay with the surgery. I never wanted to give birth so I didn’t care. A friend of mine had come to stay with me in Chicago and she witnessed the pain I was going through so she took it upon herself to research ways that I could help myself. She found that a plant-based diet could help endometriosis and she sent it to me. I thought, “Whatever dude. My doctors never told me this. Why would this ever work?” But I was desperate and decided to try the diet. My pain and symptoms dramatically decreased. I never got the hysterectomy.
Now that’s an amazing friend.
Her name is Amanda! I want to make it super clear that there isn’t a cure to endometriosis. I think there are a lot of different things that women can do to help ease the symptoms. I’m never going to not have some of the symptoms. Painkillers didn’t really work for me, weed worked a little, surgery didn’t work and then as soon as I changed my diet [I felt better]. I also think it was changing my mindset to start putting good things into my body that help to heal. This was five years ago. This was before a lot of the plant-based movement had started, and I just felt like I had to tell other women about this. I couldn’t keep this to myself. I had never cooked before. I had to teach myself how to cook so I could eat to basically live a happy life. I had already worked with a ton of restaurants doing marketing and branding for them, so I started to go to them and say, “Hey look. What if you had one plant-based meal on your menu and we called it One Part Plant?” And that’s how it all started.
How is everything health-wise now?
I’m still not the kind of girl that is like, “Oops, I started my period!” I definitely know I have it. But I can sit up, go out the door and walk around. I’m not sequestered to bed for the first two or three days. Other symptoms I flat out do not have anymore. Taking out inflammatory foods has changed my life. Also, managing my stress better. My family used to call me “Stressica”… but I’ve been working on that. Less stress equals better periods. It all comes down to — whether you have endometriosis or arthritis or even depression — it’s all about the inflammation in your body. If you have arthritis and have joint pain and you’re eating something that is going to inflame your joints it’s only going to make it worse. A plant-based diet is truly about taking out those inflammatory foods and adding foods that aren’t.
From a grilled nut butter and pomegranate sandwich to soba slaw with thai almond butter sauce, your recipes look delicious. For those that aren’t used to cooking, what’s an easy first step to this lifestyle?
Well, it’s one part plant– one plant-based meal a day. Doesn’t that seem feasible? Instead of saying, “Tomorrow I have to only eat plant-based,” say, “Tomorrow, breakfast, lunch or dinner I’ll eat a plant-based meal.” Then it’s like, “Alright, it’s just one.” One sometimes turns into two and then two turns into three and then you start noticing how great you feel and how other foods don’t make you feel good. I totally respect the people that can just go cold turkey and change, but that’s not the case for everybody.
When someone asks you what you do, what is your elevator pitch?
I have a podcast, I have a cookbook coming out and I started One Part Plant, which is a food movement to get people to eat one plant-based meal a day. And really, two weeks ago if someone asked me what I did I would say, “Uhh… I don’t know!” I have a podcast, but I could tell someone that and they may have no idea what a podcast is. When I was a designer before, it was easy to just say I was a designer. People didn’t ask, “So how do you make money?” I actually just talked about this recently. I started an intensive LinkedIn page because I wanted to start connecting with the decision makers because they’re not really hanging out on Instagram. I even googled “Top 5 Things to Make a Good LinkedIn Profile.” The reason I bring this up is because in the tips that I found it said you should list the jobs that you want to do and are currently doing. In the past I owned a bar. I don’t want to have anything to do with bars so why should that be on there? It doesn’t really speak to what I want to do now. Not to be too yoga-zen, but you’re not putting out the right energy. You’re putting out old energy that you don’t want anymore.
On One Part Podcast you chat with some very cool and interesting trailblazers in wellness and one topic is successes and setbacks. What is your favorite question to ask your interview guests?
I like to ask, “What do you think I should do with my life?” [Laughs]. It’s really interesting with the podcast because I never have questions planned ahead of time. When I do I get off my game because I am thinking about my next question. My favorite question is around what they are good at and why they are good at it. Sometimes there is something special about someone that just takes off. Also, I love finding out people’s backstories. When you see someone you don’t know if they have a loan, if they have credit card debt or if their parents help fund [their business]. You look at people and think that everyone is self-made, but you don’t know everyone’s real story.
Have you ever received any great podcasting advice?
I don’t think I’ve gotten any advice, but I definitely pulled from podcasts that I liked. I don’t like it when a podcast starts with [the host saying], “Hi, thanks for being here!” I start recording the second we start talking and then just get into it. Marc Maron does that on his podcast, he just starts. I think it has a cooler flow to it because that intro is always awkward. If you want to connect with your listeners more I think it’s super important and crucial to have show notes. If someone talks about their book you can go and order it or if someone talked about an article that they loved, you can go and click on it. There are so many times when I’m listening to something and I’m trying to take notes, but if you know those notes are somewhere else you can just sit back and relax.
Lena Dunham wrote the foreword to your cookbook “One Part Plant.” How did that come about?
Lena has endometriosis and she has been very outspoken about it. The thing with endometriosis is that it can take women 8-10 doctors to actually be diagnosed with it. It’s the last health taboo for women. It’s a really big problem and no one is talking about it. Lena and Padma Lakshmi have both come out and talked about it. People don’t talk about it because it surrounds periods. No one wants to talk about periods. Through email I helped Lena with her endo and suggested different foods that she could eat.
Did you just take it upon yourself to get in touch?
I wanted her to contribute to the book in some way because I was so inspired that she was speaking out about endometriosis. So yes, I just reached out. I had no clue if she’d say yes but thought, “What if she did?” There are a lot of people that write forewords for books and you know a PR person talked to a PR person and they have zero connection. Lena writing it feels more genuine because we actually were able to connect on something. When I read what she wrote I just cried and also thought, “Can you just write the rest of this book?” She’s an incredible writer! I couldn’t have imagined this happening, but what an incredible voice to be a part of it. She just wants to help women too.
Was a book always part of your plan?
No! I’m surprised. I used to have a paper company when I was a designer. I knew I wanted to do a book for that, but it didn’t happen. I had an agent for the other book I wanted to do. When we took the pitch out for that book someone came back and said, “I’m not interested in this book, but is this the same Jessica from One Part Plant?” And I was like, “What? This is just something I do on the side.”
How does one get a book agent in the first place?
Sarah was just starting out in her career and I was starting out in mine and she believed in me and there was something about her that I believed in. I still don’t have a lot of Instagram followers compared to other people in my space and I think when she found me I had like 200 followers. She was starting out and we just connected and she took me along with her. I am very thankful for her.
What was the biggest surprise that happened in the process of creating the book?
I think the loneliness that you feel. When you work for yourself you think, “Okay I am going to get out of the house and I’m going to get a coffee and work from somewhere else.” When you’re writing a cookbook you can’t take the kitchen with you. You are in that house all of the time and you’re cooking by yourself and you’re writing by yourself, so it’s kind of a lonely experience. You can bounce ideas off of your editor or your agent, but ultimately it’s your project and you have to do it and turn it in, and then you get feedback. You get an advance check, but you have to go make a book. You get a chunk of money, and then you go. No one is holding your hand unless you ask and even then no one is going to write it for you.
How long was the time from green light to when you had turn in the manuscript?
I got my advance check in September and then I had to turn it in in May or June– I got an extension. I moved to Charleston during the worst flood, so I could get a month extension. I’m actually producing a podcast called “The Cookbook Deal” and it’s going to take you through the entire process. I recorded some of my meltdowns.
What meltdown stands out the most?
I think the biggest meltdown was over money. While working on the book I couldn’t pick up other jobs and side projects. A book is running a second small business essentially because you get a chunk of money and you have to figure out how to allocate that in a certain time period to make it last. You have to pay for the photographer and the shoot and everything. You have to budget it all and it’s really scary. I’ve never made a cookbook before. I completely fucked up making the recipes at first because I would just go to the grocery store and think, “What’s inspiring?” And then I’d just waste a bunch of money because I’d get home and I’m like, “What am I going to make with asparagus?” Later on into the process I got really organized. I thought, “What am I making today? I need these ingredients.” There are 100 recipes. I also pulled in six chefs that aren’t known for plant-based food to contribute a recipe. I have Daniel Holzman from The Meatball Shop in New York and I have Ruth Reichl– people that you wouldn’t expect.
How long would it take you to get each recipe right?
Sometimes you’d get it on the first try and then sometimes it takes five times. I also had recipe testers. In my newsletter and on Instagram I asked who wanted to do recipe testing. Each person got assigned two recipes and they had to make it in their own kitchen. The feedback was amazing because you are talking to people that cook all of the time; you’re talking to people that have never cooked. I made very specific questions for them. It wasn’t just, “Do you like this?” There was one person that said they didn’t care for a milk that I made and then they wrote me back a couple days later and they said, “But I decided to use the leftover milk and made this with it and it was awesome.” So in the book I’ve actually included some of the recipe testers’ feedback to help the reader. Another person’s recipe called for a food processor and she didn’t have one so she made it in a blender. So I included that in there.
In the world of Instagram, how do you deal with trying not to compare yourself to others?
It’s hard sometimes because most of my friends in that space have 25,000 times more followers than I do. What I try to always remember is that the people I connect with aren’t on Instagram, they’re on my podcast or newsletter. I think it’s a great platform, but I feel like Instagram is in control of my connection with them with algorithms and things. When I send out my newsletter I have a little bit more control. I’m directly connecting with them, as opposed to being in a feed that Instagram decides for me. If someone downloads my podcast and listens for 45 minutes I’m connected with them in a new way. I guess when it comes to comparison I just try to think about the other ways I’m connecting.
Any social media tips for those of us still trying to figure it out?
My goal in life is to have a flip phone and move to Mexico [and live] in a hut. I don’t even want internet service except to do my podcast. I actually received a huge piece of advice that is almost embarrassing to say, but I’ll say it. When I first started One Part Plant I refused to Instagram photos of my food. I thought it seemed super cliché. I didn’t want to be the person with the phone above the table. My friend, Jena Gambaccini, had a little intervention with me and she said, “Girlfriend, your site is about food. You need to Instagram food.” I thought, “Duh.”
Do you take all of your food photos on your phone?
Most of my friends that are the big-time food bloggers, they don’t take any photos with their iPhone camera. They upload DSLR photos and then share those on Instagram, which is smart and makes everything crisp and clean. It’s just sometimes I don’t feel like doing that and just want to be in the moment. Another tip that someone told me that was huge was to use one light source. If you’re in a room and there is a lamp on and you’ve got some window light, turn off that lamp. Then you don’t get weird yellow or blue tones.
What do you enjoy the most about your job and what is something that you wish you could hand off to someone else?
I think my favorite part is really connecting with people. I straight up love my newsletter people so much. I send it out every Sunday and I feel like we are this little family that connects with each other. Those are my people. I don’t like to use the word “followers” or “fans.” I hate those words. I feel like we are family. I also love editing the podcast. Most of my friends that have podcasts hand off the editing. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that. Something I do not like doing is trying to find sponsors. I did hire a great accountant which has helped a lot. Also, sometimes you want someone to speak on your behalf and kind of be the bad cop a little bit. I want a bad cop.
Your brand voice makes it feel like you’re talking to a friend. What should one be thinking about when creating a brand personality?
You should definitely ask yourself who you are and not who you’re trying to emulate. I definitely get caught up in the comparison game too. I think, “Oh my God, her site is so cool and I love her photography,” but I’m not going to go out and buy all of those plates for my photos. I’m not that interested in photo styling stuff. So what do I enjoy doing? I like the writing part. I didn’t realize the writing was like that until you pointed it out. I definitely read things that people write and I’m like, “I don’t know if you really think that.” I think that maybe others think [certain wording] is good for SEO. I don’t make recipes that I know are going to [do well] with Google Analytics. A lot of people who make recipes do that. They’ll make chicken fajita tacos, but I’m making cherry quinoa and no one is googling that. It could be a good thing and a bad thing. If you are someone who is trying to start something, think about what you are good at. I watched a video the other day and someone said, “Do your shit, even if people don’t care about it yet.” I think we try to do things that are very current and try to follow trends. If you’re passionate about X and you start doing it well, at some point you’re going to be the expert at X as opposed to doing what is popular and being in a sea of people doing that thing.
What is something your One Part Plant family doesn’t know about you?
I truly, truly, truly just want people to know that I don’t judge you ever. I don’t care if you eat Oreos every single day. I won’t judge you and I didn’t wake up liking green juice. I didn’t wake up liking healthy food. It has taken me a while to get here and that’s okay. It’s okay if it takes you a while too. I think there are so many people in the health space and a lot of it is super legit but they’ve always liked healthy food. I never liked healthy food. Your taste buds change, what you want changes, so I think I want people to know it’s okay if you’re starting at zero because that’s where I started. I started below zero. I just want us to be in a club together. There are some people that are good at going cold turkey, but a lot of us aren’t. I also think it’s super important to think about why you are doing this. Are you doing it to be thin? Are you doing it to be cool? Choose a reason why you’re doing it. For me I was doing it because I wanted to not be in pain anymore. If you’re doing it for the wrong reasons it’s never going to work.
How does your husband play a role in everything?
My husband is an angel sent from heaven.
How does he support you the most?
Dan has been a healthy eater since we met, so it was me who was catching up. He would always make me my shitty food and then he would make his steamed kale. He never said, “I told you so.” When I was ready we just started doing it together. He works in advertising and he is the creative director. I have him edit everything I write, which at this point is annoying because it’s midnight and I’m like, “Hey, can you edit this post?” Actually, out of everything, Dan has taught me to be a better writer and to be more confident in my writing. I remember in college when I got assigned to write a three-page paper I thought I couldn’t even write one sentence and now I just wrote a book.
Who are you most excited to show the book to?
I feel nervous about my friends and family getting it– the people who have helped me along the way. I just want to buy 10,000 copies and say, “Thank you.” The thing I’m most excited to write – which you save until the end – is the acknowledgements page. I thought about how I get to thank everyone who has helped me. I’ve been keeping a running list of people that pop into my head. I can’t wait.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Dr. J [Julius Erving] the basketball player. Look at that man; he is a legend. He did things before anyone else did them in terms of basketball and not just the way that he played, but the way he shaped his career. In addition to that, he looks fine as hell. He has taken such good care of himself. I remember when I was in the fifth grade, I broke my foot playing basketball and I had to get a cast. I wouldn’t get any signatures on my cast at first, but I made my dad write “Dr. J” on the bottom so whenever I would lift my foot up you would see it. I just fucking love him. I wouldn’t be nervous around any celebrity, but him. He has such a presence to him.
Buy the “One Part Plant” cookbook here!
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