by Lizzie Duszynski
Three years ago, a switch to a plant-based diet saved Jessica Murnane from major surgery. Now, through her company, One Part Plant, sheís on a mission to bring vegetables out from the sidelines, challenging Chicago restaurants to green their menus with at least one plant-based item. We caught up with Jessica to talk about her new businessóand the powerful hold good foodís got on her.

Q: Can you tell us how One Part Plant came to be?

After graphic designing for ten years, I wanted to find something that I was passionate about again. I kept thinking that the one thing I love so much is how food can help people. I was also thinking what do I do in my spare time? I watch food movies. All I do is talk about, watch, and think about food and how it can make me feel better. So I thought this is something that Iím definitely passionate about, but I didnít think of myself as someone who had that type of science brain. Iím not a chef either. So I did some research and found the T. Campbell Foundation and certification of plant-based nutrition. I had no idea what would happen with it, but I decided to take the classes anyway.

So right before I started the class I had the idea for the One Part Plant program. I do branding for restaurants in the city and I thought, I know so many restaurant people. What if I could get them to start offering more plant-based menu items so that I could eat at these places? So I donít always have to drag my friends to Native Foods or eat at home before going out. I just wanted to go out and have fun and not worry about how I would eat. So I approached some restaurants and they all said yes.

Iíve done some random jobs in my life and worked on some crazy projects, but I truly feel that One Part Plant is what I have been waiting for.
They didnít hesitate. One Part Plant started with wanting to get restaurants on board and then, once I started talking to people about the project, I realized that people would want more recipes and tips so thatís when I started the website.

Q: Do you recommend a plant-based diet for women who, like you, suffer from medical issues?

I always say that Iím not a doctor. I recommend getting to the root of the problem first. Get yourself diagnosed. I definitely think a plant-based diet is great for everyone, but I think you also have to be very careful about eliminating everything at once. I changed my diet in a more gradual way: I eliminated gluten, dairy, and soy first and then slowly I cut out sugar. I educated myself on everything. You have to be very prepared to do this. You have to make sure that youíre eating well. This isnít something you do to get skinny. Itís to make you feel better. A good place to start is to find a doctor whoís interested in helping you with this [nutritional] plan.

Q: By plant-based, I didnít realize that you were also talking about gluten, soy, and sugar. It sounds like youíve cut out quite a bit. What do you eat on the regular?

I always use the phrase Ďplant-based,í because I feel like when you use the word Ďvegan,í that doesnít necessarily mean healthy. I could have a vegan diet and actually still feel very sick and spend every day in bed. So, just to clarify, a plant-based diet is minimally processed, or not processed at all whole foods: fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. I eat a lot of Mediterranean food. I love making big Jerusalem salads, or lentils and rice. I love sweet potato and black bean tacos, and Thai food. The way that my diet has changed the most is that I now make vegetables the main event, as opposed to the side.

Q: What do you hope ultimately to accomplish with One Part Plant? At what moment or milestone can you sit back and say, Ďmy work here is doneí?

Well first of all, being a creative designer, I know Iíll never feel accomplished enough! [Laughs] Truly, my goal for this is to take it to other cities. Iím actually talking to other cities now. I would love to see plant-based options everywhere: Iíd love it if you could go to the United Center for a Bulls Game and get something plant-based. Iíd love to take it to bigger venues: airlines, event venues, etc. So far, chefs have been so accommodating and welcoming. I think [we can] change peopleís view that healthy eating can actually be kind of cool and that it doesnít have to be crunchy and granola. And that just because youíre eating healthy doesnít mean you have to change into a different person. Itís just one aspect of your life.

Q: Are the dishes created through One Part Plant meant to stay on restaurant menus for the long-haul? Can readers go out and taste them?

What restaurants are doing [through the One Part Plant program] is committing to having at least one plant-based item on the menu. Menus change so often and they will rotate. For instance, Floriole just launched their first ever plant-based, vegan cookie. There may be times that you wonít see these items on restaurant menus, because they change so often with the seasons. But you can just ask for the One Part Plant dish and theyíll cook it up for you.

Q: How involved are you in the creation of these One Part Plant approved dishes?

Iím actually not involved and thatís something I like to make clear up front when Iím working with chefs. Chefs are creative and theyíre the masters. They should be able to create whatever they want to create as long as it follows the guidelines that we have. The exciting part about that is that these are Food & Wine-voted Best New Chefs and people whoíve been nominated for the James Beard Award. So weíre dealing with super high-end caliber chefs. Iím not going to come in and tell them how to cook. I let them do their thing and then get to enjoy it.

Q: Do many chefs respond to One Part Plant with suggestions for salads?

No. Itís made me really excited that most of the dishes have been entrees. Theyíre interesting. As chefs, I feel that they want to show off a little bit and show how creative they are and that they can work with all types of dishes. You know, Cru Kitchen & Bar has quinoa fries that have pork or something in them, but for April, theyíre offering a plant-based version of that dish. I think itís cool because it shows people that with just a minor tweak you can make so many dishes plant-based. It doesnít have to be a salad or nothing.

Q: What parameters does One Part Plant give to partnering restaurants?

I just tell them that the dish needs to be [made from] fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, grains, legumes. I like to say that when you are plant-based, it doesnít necessarily eliminate gluten or soy, but I just ask that chefs are mindful of these ingredients because I do think that a lot of people tend to cut them out. But a plant-based diet doesnít necessarily mean that youíre gluten free.

Q: So youíre married, does your husband follow a plant-based diet as well?

Yes, itís funny because whenever I tell people about this project, one of the first questions they ask is ĎHow does your husband feel about it?í But Dan has been a healthy eater way longer than I have, so Iíve actually caught up to him.

Q: Any advice for women who have partners who arenít on board with the dietary changes theyíre making?

I run into that a lot and that really makes me sad. But when it comes to food, itís such a personal thing and people donít necessarily like it when their partners make changes because they might feel left behind or left out. In terms of women who are trying to get their dudes on board, or just want them to be more accepting, itís about making little changes.

I think [we can] change peopleís view that healthy eating can actually be kind of cool.
Like not cutting out everything thatís awesome, but replacing your regular milk with almond milk for a week and seeing how that goes. Or maybe instead of making chicken fajitas, making veggie fajitas. I think itís about taking your normal routine and making minor tweaks to it, as opposed to completely overhauling your life. Once you make those little changesÖif you can show someone itís not that bad, and that itís fun, I think that theyíll feel positive changes too, and that theyíll come on board right away.

Q: Speaking of small changes, what are a few foods women can add to their diets for a healthful boost?

I almost get annoyed hearing myself talk about chia seeds. I love chia because you can do a lot with it; itís such an easy add-on and it gives me a lot of energy. I also always,always have tahini in the house. Itís so easy to mix with lemon juice and salt and pepper to make a great dressing. It also has calcium in it, which is awesome. Almond milk too. Anything that you used to do with dairy milk, you can do with almond milk. You can make mashed potatoes, or have it in your cereal in the morning. Itís a really nice transition food.

Q: This is a bit unrelated, but can you tell us a bit about your interview site, So How Was Your Day??

Sure! I wanted to start that website because, even though I have been a designer for 10 years, I was always trying to figure out what the hell I was doing with my career. One thing that I would do, I would always set up these meetings with people whose jobs I thought I wanted. So Iíd meet with a stylist, or talk to an editor at a magazine. From those conversations and just hearing about their days, I sort of realized what I wanted to do or what I didnít want to do. That was such a valuable experience for me my whole life, being able to talk to people who I really respect and admire, or think that theyíre awesome creatively. So I just wanted to bring that to a bigger scale and let other people enjoy thatóand get to see all of these people that I think are pretty inspiring. The site truly was meant to get people inspired and help people figure out what they wanted to do with their careers, or maybe do more with their days. I donít really have any ads on it and I donít really promote it a lot. It just kind of lives there as this little secret spot for people to visit. Itís one of my favorite things Iíve ever done.

Q: So now that youíve created One Part Plant, do you feel as though youíve finally found what youíre meant to do with your career?

I actually do! Itís really weird. Iíve done some random jobs in my life and worked on some crazy projects, but I truly feel that One Part Plant is what I have been waiting for.

I also feel like it lends itself well to So, How Was Your Day? Not to be all Oprah about it, but both are all about feeling better. I just went through so many years not feeling healthy and good, that now I just want to put out as many positive messages as possible.

Want more from Jessica and One Part Plant? Visit them online for tips, recipes, and a master list of participating Chicago restaurants.