Perhaps you’ve already heard of Our Hen House and the powerhouse couple behind it, Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan. In the past five years since founding the non-profit Our Hen House, the two have created a media hub for anyone who wants to change the world for animals. What makes Jasmin and Mariann unique is the flair, verve, and honesty they bring to their podcast (now over 255 episodes strong), their ebooks, their online magazine, and their frequent public appearances where they squawk about everything from Animal Law (Mariann is a professor of that at Columbia Law School) to writing for animal rights (Jasmin’s memoir about food and activism is being released by Penguin’s Berkley imprint in February, 2016). Their indefatigably positive style is as contagious as their passion for the subject matter — a fact made evident from this week’s premiere of the second season of the Our Hen House TV Show. Read our interview to find out just why the vast community of animal-lovers has a collective crush on the hens behind Our Hen House, and be sure to also check out their show’s one-minute promo, and the first episode of the second season, now available online.
VP: What is the Our Hen House TV show?
OHH: Pure fabulousity, that’s what. We kid (but not really). The Our Hen House TV show is the only show of its kind – an accessible, honest, indefatigably positive, and fun show centered around the current state of animal rights and the deliciousness of veganism.
With that in mind, here’s the “official” description of the show:
“Our Hen House’s TV show, a co-production with Brooklyn Independent Media, ventures into the under-explored world of animal rights with a sense of humor, a passionate heart, and more than a few opinions. Whether you’re a seasoned vegan, a part-time vegetarian, a fiery social justice activist, or simply love your dog, Our Hen House’s TV show will embolden you to think in new directions, to question assumptions, and to sample some fabulous food along the way. The show is an extension of the popular podcast under the same name.”
VP: What can we look forward to on the second season?
OHH: By the end of the second season, we promise that the entire world will be vegan. Well, OK, maybe that won’t happen – but it will certainly be closer. The second season premiere, our 23rd episode, features Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur (and, not to spoil things, but he HULA-HOOPS in the episode, y’all!), Kenyan animal rights activist Josphat Ngonyo, and environmentalist Mia MacDonald. And though we don’t want to spill the beans, the second episode (premiering December 15) will feature undercover factory farm investigator Cody Carlson, school food changemaker Kelley Wind (from the Coalition for Healthy School Food), and the owner of the Candle Cafe empire, Joy Pierson (she started her first vegan restaurant after she won the lotto!). And since Mariann is an animal law guru (Mariann’s note: Jasmin typed that, not me…), she is sure to intersperse the latest and greatest (and sometimes not-so-great) news from the world of animal law and current events. And her new PENTAGON-shaped glasses are, by themselves, worth watching. (And this IS Mariann typing, by the way.)
VP: Do you feature vegan food on the show?
OHH: Is the sky blue and are the icebergs melting? Yes, yes we do.
VP: Do you have to be in Brooklyn to enjoy your TV show?
OHH: Absolutely not. It does help to be in Brooklyn if you want to highlight your extra cool hipster-style glasses, or use your unlimited Metrocard connecting you to vegan cafes throughout the borough’s bustling vegan scene. But the issues we cover are worldwide and extend far beyond just Brooklyn, even though, since we’re here, there is a natural Brooklyn bent. We have pride – what can we say?
VP: Why aren’t there other TV shows about animal rights?
OHH: That’s an excellent question; why aren’t there? The media, by and large, is still afraid to go there, and for the most part, their stories are still being dictated by the status quo. It takes a breakout station like Brooklyn Independent Media – or breakout journalists like our hero Jane Velez-Mitchell – to have the gumption to question assumptions. That’s why independent media – and, for that matter, DIY media – needs to run the show (literally) when it comes to telling the truth about what’s happening to animals behind closed doors. And it’s up to viewers to make sure that these stories are being seen and shared. We’re very lucky to be hosting such a groundbreaking show, and the success of the show – proven by how we’re now entering season two – is clearly proof that the demand for this content is there. The media needs to step up to the plate, and examine why there are animals on that plate in the first place.
VP: What role do you see media playing in changing the world for animals?
OHH: We’re big fans of grassroots tactics, but grassroots goes nowhere (or, hardly anywhere) without media backing it up. For example, a protest or other awareness-raising event is all fine and good – and you might even be lucky enough to reach someone with the message and gear them further toward compassion – but think of how much more of a punch you can pack if you get a news crew there. Or, to give each of us the power for a minute, what if we are the ones to make the media ourselves? Make an iPhone video, spend a few minutes editing it (and don’t say you can’t – it’s super easy so just challenge yourself to figure it out), and then pop that onto your social media outlets, and bam, that friend of yours from high school, along with several hundred of your other comrades, have now also been exposed to the message. The point is that we need the media in all its forms – both mainstream and DIY – to bring animals to the fore.
VP: Where does OHH fit into that changemaking?
OHH: We’re a media hub for anybody who wants to change the world for animals. In the past five years since starting our podcast, we have interviewed several hundred animal advocates – celebrities, politicians, teachers, lawyers, students, parents, artists, entrepreneurs, you name it. We have also written or published literally thousands of articles on our online magazine, and even started an ebook publishing arm to highlight longer-form essays that push the envelope further for animals. And then, of course, earlier this year we started the Our Hen House TV show, now premiering season two. We’ve also traveled around the country and beyond giving talks on Animal Rights, Animal Law, Veganism 101, Writing for Animal Rights, and Podcasting. Our Hen House – which is all of ours, not just yours or mine – is really a place for anyone with an interest in changemaking to explore how they can turn their passion for their dog into a way to help the plight of homeless dogs, or their hankering for a vegan cupcake into a way to spread veganism to their community. We’re a clearinghouse of free content that will further your thinking and amplify your voice.
VP: Who are the hens behind Our Hen House?
OHH: We are Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan, a married couple living in Brooklyn, alongside a gorgeous and perfect rescued pit bull named Rose. We met eight years ago and have been going strong ever since then, partners in life and in advocacy. Mariann teaches Animal Law, currently at Columbia Law School and Cardozo Law School, and Jasmin is a writer whose memoir about food and activism is being published in February 2016 by Penguin Random House’s imprint, Berkley. Prior to founding Our Hen House, a 501c3 nonprofit, Jasmin was the campaigns manager for Farm Sanctuary, and Mariann worked in criminal appeals, and then for the NY State Appellate Division. We are monomaniacally devoted to changing the world for animals, and are constantly looking out for the best way to use our skills and talents to do so – and encourage others to do the same. We also aren’t afraid to say it how it is, yet we try our best to (usually) maintain an indefatigably positive outlook. (And we try very hard, too, to keep our discussion of marital issues to a minimum on our shows.)
VP: How do you manage to create a professionally produced TV show?
OHH: Drugs and prayer. Just kidding. We are very lucky to be working with the incredibly talented team over at Brooklyn Independent Media, a professional network – the first of its kind – offering round-the-clock content for, by, and about Brooklyn. The work they do is groundbreaking – enough to inspire us to move from our digs in lower Manhattan to the way-too-cool-for-us world of Brooklyn. They have an amazing daily show called “BK Live,” and just last week they interviewed us for a segment about vegan Thanksgiving. Brooklyn Independent Media’s content is on TV throughout all five boroughs of New York City, as well as online (where it is both streamed live and archived). We have an incredible crew of 15 folks, and each time we record, we get them to like us by feeding them ample amounts of yummy vegan grub. When Joy Pierson from Candle Cafe was a guest for Episode 24, which airs on December 15, she brought enough seitan chimichurris and vegan cheesecake to feed all of Brooklyn.
VP: To summarize, how can people stay on top of Our Hen House’s happenings, including your second season?
OHH: The easiest way to watch the Our Hen House TV show, and catch up on old episodes, is on our website at www.ourhenhouse.org/tv. At ourhenhouse.org we regularly post exclusive articles about animal rights and veganism from the very best thinkers this movement has. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Check out our ebook publishing arm’s first ebook, The Lines We Draw, by Sangu Iyer, and keep an eye out for our second one coming in early 2015. And be sure to also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. If you’re in NYC, check your local listings for the show, and if you live in Brooklyn and see us walking around, be sure to say hi (and keep an eye out for an upcoming bus shelter ad dedicated completely to our show! I KNOW, right??).