With a hot cookbook and hit podcast, plant-based foods champion, Jessica Murnane, has found a recipe for many-parts goodness
The hat is not just any hat. It’s a Jessica Murnane signature, handmade from a vintage mold by the famed hatmakers of Chicago’s Optimo. “The best hat shop in the world,” says Jessica, who counts working at Optimo as one of a “million different jobs I’ve had.” She’s also a wife; mother of three-year old Sid; and former graphic designer-turned-author, speaker, and podcaster who moved to Charleston from Chicago two years ago.
She’s wearing this particular beige felt beauty when we meet in Huriyali’s back garden, where it keeps the afternoon sun out of her eyes as we talk about how she came to create her website, One Part Plant, now also the title of her cookbook. “At first I thought, ‘I can’t pull this off. I can’t pull this off,’” says Jessica of finding the hat. “Then as soon as I put it on, I felt it was just me.” And that’s more or less the story of Jessica finding her groove as a plant-based foods proponent, a popular podcast host, and most recently a cookbook author. “I never imagined this would be my work,” she says of her “One Part Plant” movement, “but it feels right, it feels good.” And it tastes pretty good, too.
What you’d never guess by looking (and drooling) over the delicious pages of One Part Plant, especially the decadent photos of her Chocolate Chunk Cookies, plus the gorgeous Tomato and White Bean Panzanella, is that six years ago Jessica never really cooked. “My major food groups were Sour Patch Kids, Diet Coke, and whatever Lean Cuisine had the most cheese,” she admits on her website.
Jessica Murnane indeed wears many hats, but there’s no white chef’s hat in her kitchen giving the Optimo a run for its money. She’s no culinary superstar, nor does she really want to be—which is why she publishes recipes that are easy and oh-so accessible. “I only use ingredients that people can get at the grocery store or on the Internet,” she says. It’s not about hyping the latest food fads—far from it. Jessica simply wants to help people make doable, healthy shifts in their diets, starting with just one meal (thus, the “one part”) a day of unprocessed, plant-based foods, especially when it might be life-changing for them, as it was for her.
The success of One Part Plant comes from Jessica’s hard work and trial and error, born out of desperation, really. At age 29, after years of cripplingly painful periods, Jessica was diagnosed with Stage 4 endometriosis, or “endo”—she’s got this snap way of talking about uncool things in a totally cool, girl-friend chat kind of way—and tried surgeries, medicines, therapies, and painkillers, but never found relief. Her doctor suggested a hysterectomy: Jessica, married then but childless, was only 33. A friend sent her a link to an article on how plant-based foods might help relieve her symptoms, and though skeptical and not too psyched about giving up those Sour Patch Kids, but less psyched about a hysterectomy, she tried it.
Within a few weeks, Jessica started feeling better, and before long, she made the shift whole-non-hog to plant-based foods, i.e. nuts, whole grains, and vegetables—no dairy, meat, or processed foods. Eating this way allowed her to finally conquer the endo-associated insomnia and depression that had plagued her for years, and she was able to avoid having that dreaded hysterectomy. “Changing my diet changed my life,” says Jessica, who began creating her own recipes as she experimented with plant-based ways to retool the foods she craved (her mother’s famed Johnny Marzetti casserole, for one).
The ease and deliciousness of One Part Plant’s recipes is among the reasons that Lena Dunham—yes, the Lena Dunham, as in the writer and actor of the HBO hit series Girls—agreed to pen the book’s foreword; another reason being that she simply recognized a kindred spirit. Dunham, too, suffers from endo, and when Jessica reached out to her and gently suggested she might also find benefit from changing her diet, Dunham was receptive. Dubbing Jessica “a plant-based Hogwarts,” she was won over by Jessica’s gentle, honest, non-preachy tone. “She wasn’t making a big list of don’ts, but rather introducing a whole new world of mysterious ingredients and exciting kitchen adventures,” writes Dunham in the foreword. “She also readily admitted that she hadn’t started out as a domestic goddess, and that change is a bitch.”
The premise of One Part Plant is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, which can often be overwhelming and a set-up for failure. Shifting to just one plant-based meal a day is a great start, Jessica counters, and even small changes can yield big results. Jessica’s a cheerleader, not a zealot; she offers up doable recipes, not reprimands. She knows you’re not perfect, and by the way, about that piece of birthday cake, go for it! The fact that she’s hip but totally approachable and down with girl talk is also the secret ingredient in her podcast, One Part Podcast.
Like cooking and writing, podcasting is something else that Jessica taught herself. Now with nearly 100 interviews under her belt (93 at the time of this writing), and more than one million downloads from listeners, she’s pretty much got that figured out. One Part Podcast features lively conversations with big names in the world of wellness, food, design, psychology, or really, whoever and whatever sparks Jessica’s interest. Guests have included Laila Ali, undefeated boxing champ and host of OWN’s Home Made Simple; Jeff Garlin, who stars on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm; and noted chef and author Julia Turshen.
The podcast grew from Jessica’s natural affinity for “connecting with people and letting them share their stories,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to meet so many cool people, and I wanted others to get to know them, too.” She likes how the intimacy of a real voice in your earbuds engenders this sense of connection. And her voice, with its unaffected authenticity, is particularly effective at this. Proof? Consider the fact that One Part Podcast launched in 2014 with a handful of listeners, and it landed on iTunes’ “New and Noteworthy” category after just three weeks and in a few months spawned a community page with more than 500 of her most engaged audience members. “I created the private community for like-minded listeners to have a safe space to connect online and also in real life. My audience is everything to me, and this lets us discuss the episodes and the things going on in our lives, and I get feedback on future guest ideas,” she says.
In addition to One Part Podcast, Jessica turned her experience of creating the cookbook, and the learning curve entailed in writing (if you by chance saw a girl in a hat typing away at the window counter of Caviar & Bananas for six months in 2016, that was Jessica, writing One Part Plant) as well as finding an agent and publisher (Harper WAVE, a HarperCollins imprint) into fodder for an offshoot podcast series called The Cookbook Deal. All of which folds into the expanding “brand” of Jessica Murnane. A brand that’s less about her, really, than about promoting other people.
There’s a refreshing generosity that underscores Jessica’s endeavors—whether she’s helping people understand symptoms of endometriosis, offering recipes that make healthy foods seem enticing and unintimidating, or just having a heart-to-heart podcast chat about relationships or sex or adoption and parenting or caring for aging parents. “Her style is chill, smart, and witty,” says listener MJergenson. Another iTunes reviewer (JCFairchild) lauds Jessica for “keeping things fresh without making me feel left behind.”
One Part Palm Trees
Jessica and her husband, Dan Jividen, a creative director for a Chicago-based agency, moved to Charleston to be closer to family, especially after baby Sid came along. Dan’s parents reside in Southport, North Carolina, and he’d always dreamed of living near the water. The couple is renovating a home in the North Central neighborhood, and after having lived in Chicago since graduating from Ohio University, Jessica still pinches herself. “I have palm trees in my backyard,” she says. “I love being surrounded by nature, but also being able to go around the corner to get a smoothie. I walk around Charleston and think, ‘This is so awesome!’”
She’s also discovered a welcoming community of creatives here, one that she’s found to be supportive and encouraging rather than competitive. “That’s the great part of my job. It’s so fun getting to meet people, and I’ve met so many amazing women in Charleston,” she says. Local designer Harper Poe of Proud Mary has been a sponsor of One Part Podcast, and friends Kate and Ben Towill, who recently opened Basic Kitchen, have been featured on the One Part Plant website. And she’s grateful, too, that she’s able to help fellow Charlestonians become more aware of the disease that silently plagued her for years, and ultimately led her to this particularly one-part happy, one-part healthy moment in her life and career. Witness her in action in front of a room full of Ashley Hall teenagers and you get a sense of Jessica’s many-parts passion for making sure other women don’t suffer, as she did, from not knowing about endometriosis.
Nothing’s off the table when she’s chatting with her podcast guests, or with the Ashley Hall girls, who blush and giggle when Jessica admits sometimes she’d have to urinate so badly (an often-missed endometriosis symptom) that she’d squat down and pretend to be picking flowers while walking home from school. And they fall silent as Jessica’s voice shifts an octave higher and she gets a little teary, “Painful periods ruined my high school experience, and I don’t want that to happen to you,” she says. “Maybe you’ll go home and talk to your mom or sister or a friend and say, ‘Hey this weird chick in a hat came to talk to us about endo and how healthy, plant-based foods can help,’ and then one other person will know about it,” says Jessica, whose school talks are part of her volunteer work with the Endometriosis Foundation of America.
Now that her cookbook promotional tour is wrapping up, she’s turning much of her focus to launching a new website and course, knowyourendo.com. “I’m so freaking excited about this!” she exclaims. “This is the resource that I wish I’d had available to me years ago.” And while she realizes the topic may not be as glam or sexy as the gorgeous food shots in her cookbook, Jessica knows that bringing awareness to the disease is work she’s compelled to do.
She knows this because she’ll get a message from a reader or listener whose life was changed as a result of hearing Jessica’s story and trying her recipes. She knows this because a couple of girls hang around at the podium after the Ashley Hall talk to ask more questions or share similar symptoms and concerns. “It’s the biggest confirmation to know the work I’m doing to help women is paying off,” she says. “If I can help one woman not have to have a hysterectomy, and to enjoy really delicious, healthy food, then I’m all in.”
Jessica’s Local Picks for Plant-Based Dining & Shopping
Basic Kitchen: “This place blows my mind! Not sure how they make veggies taste so good, but they always do. Make sure to ask for their magic green sauce.” 82 Wentworth St., www.basickitchen.com
Butcher & Bee: “They have so many options! The Mezze plate is always a winner, and they are really accommodating to every type of diet.” 1085 Morrison Dr., www.butcherandbee.com
Gnome Café: “Really great veggie comfort food, and it’s Charleston’s only 100% plant-based restaurant!” 109 President St., www.gnomecafe.com
Xiao Bao Biscuit: “Their cabbage pancake is one of my favorite dishes in the city, and they can make it plant-based if you ask.” 224 Rutledge Ave., www.xiaobaobiscuit.com
Eucalyptus Wellness Company: “I love this shop for harder-to-find products that bigger stores won’t carry. They were the first in South Carolina to carry CBD/Hemp products, including the local find Palmetto Harmony.” 280 W. Coleman Blvd., Ste. E; Mount Pleasant; www.eucalyptuswellness.com
Huriyali: “Not only do they have the best plant-based nachos ever, they’ve got a cute shop to buy pantry staples, dairy-free ice creams, and local produce (and beer!).” 401 Huger St., www.huriyali.com