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NBSV 152


Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 152

Jen Sinkler on the fitness industry and transitioning her work to the environmental field

Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No-Bullsh!t Vegan Podcast, episode 152. Writer, editor, trainer, and art maker Jen Sinkler is on the show today. We talk about a few of the things that aren't working in the fitness industry, how we met in a comments thread on Facebook, ableism in the fitness industry, and Jen discusses transitioning her work from the fitness field to the environmental field.

Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go-to, no-BS vegan fitness and nutrition coach. If you're in the northern hemisphere like me, I hope you're enjoying your summer so far. It's finally open water swim season here in the Pacific Northwest, so I'm very excited about that. A friend and I just started an open-water swim club, so we've been heading out for various ocean adventures lately, which has been fantastic.

And if you're in the southern hemisphere, like a few of our clients who live in Australia, happy winter, and hopefully you're not freezing your ass off too much at this point. My coaching team and I currently have a few spots available for new clients. We offer inclusive anti-diet coaching for awesome plant-based folks who want to get consistent with their fitness and nutrition. So we'll help you build and stick to your health habits with next-level accountability that, by the way, is way more effective than being workout buddies with your spouse or your cat. So head to to check out our programs and to apply for a spot. That's

My guest today is Jen Sinkler. She's a writer, editor, trainer, and art maker who lives in Iowa. In recent years, her fitness focus has shifted. She still trains clients occasionally out of a local gym and hosts a weekly collaborative neighbourhood workout group, but her focus has expanded to a bigger-picture approach.

She's been learning about the links between the environment and personal health and writing about that, learning how to organize, and getting involved more locally and on a statewide level with groups such as Iowa CCI, Citizens for Community Improvement, Progress Iowa, and Poweshiek Cares. Jen says, "Iowa, in particular, is causing a world of hurt from an environmental perspective because big agriculture is absolutely enormous here. It's one of the most ecologically destructed and destructive places on earth."

Since 2018, Jen has been studying and practicing various forms of visual art, drawing and collage in particular, and she's preparing to launch a greeting cards company with a group of artists from all over. They're called Collective Greetings. Jen's favourite vegan meal is salad. She says, "These days, with kale grown in my year two garden or a lettuce mix from a nearby homestead topped with hemp seeds, tempeh, and something for crunch, with great dressing. Delicious." Here's our conversation.

Hey, Jen, thanks for coming on the show.

Jen Sinkler: Thank you for having me and having me back again. Take two.

Karina Inkster: Of course, yeah. We spoke a while back and then there was a tornado warning, or what do they call it? Is it called a tornado warning? Is it a tornado alert?

Jen Sinkler: It's a tornado watch until it touches down and then it’s a warning. So the sirens had just gone off, so off I went to the basement.

Karina Inkster: Yes, right before we were going to record.

Jen Sinkler: Perfect timing. And it's a sunny day today, though, so we're all set.

Karina Inkster: Well, that's good, that's good. And you're in Iowa, right?

Jen Sinkler: I am. I'm in small town Iowa, southeast Iowa. I came back to where I'm from, hometown style, and there's so much to love about that.

Karina Inkster: That's brilliant. Well, we're going to talk about that too and what's going on there and some environmental pieces, but to start things off, just so our listeners have a little bit of a background, you have been in the fitness industry in the past, a fixture, writing and coaching and creating programs. And I want to talk about that and the transition into where you are now. But the way that we first met was in a comment thread on someone else's 


So another big-name health and fitness person posted something. And, honestly, it was a while back, so I can't remember the exact wording, but it was something around how we all have to prioritize our health. It's in this vein of another coach that I saw post, "It's not optional to have a gym membership, it's a must to have a gym membership." And I'm just like, "There's a lot of problems here with this type of messaging." So I don't know if you can remember what the post even was, but it was in that vein, I think.

Jen Sinkler: Yeah, problems and privilege, the PRs of those things. Absolutely. Yeah. I think it was along the lines of no excuses. Your health is everything. If you don't have health, you have nothing. Then it was sort of like, "Hang on a second, just hang on a second. Who aren't you speaking to then, and what are you saying?" Really the base level of, what are you saying? If you don't have health, you have nothing.

And so the people who can't be healthy, and I myself have entered into a chronic illness condition with long COVID, and so I think, yeah, it's really interesting what doesn't get said and what does get said and where we aren't digging or where the industry on the whole, and there's so much great unearthing of the ground we're standing on when it comes to things like, Deconstructing the Fitness Industrial Complex, that great new book that just came out as a collaboration. And it needs to be, though, these big names that we're speaking of. Everybody needs to back up and, all right, what's Sabrina Strings say about bodies, about judgments, about what is the ideal we're striving for and what else does that mean?

Karina Inkster: Absolutely. I'm just reading that book. I think I'm on chapter two, and it's amazing so far. I took one of Justice's courses around deconstructing the fitness industrial complex and, yeah, it was incredible. It was a really good learning experience. And I'm having flashbacks now. I remember this Facebook thread a little better now that you're mentioning some of these things.

And I think you made the point of mental health as well. That wasn't taken into consideration. Things that might prevent folks from being able to go to a gym, for example. There's a lot of things there that could be barriers, and the response was like, "Well, I can only say so much in a short, text-based Facebook post." But I think there's a lot more work that can be done here.

Jen Sinkler: There is a lot more work. And I think that we had this chance, it was around 2016-17 when conversations here in the U.S. broke bigger, on a bigger scale. Just more was revealed about, again, the base levels. And there was this chance. All sorts of posts and writings were coming up, at least from the corner of the fitness industry where I was residing at that time. Chrissy King was writing. Kara Stewart-Agostino was writing. Steph Dykstra was writing. Elizabeth Akinwale was writing. Sonja Price Herbert was writing about... And all of those are black women who are like, "Hey, so just so you know, this is actually the water we're swimming in when it comes to the fitness industry. 

And, again, these are the assumptions about bodies that are getting made."

And there was this moment where it felt like, and there have been plenty of reverberations from that and plenty of really brilliant work that's come from that. Now, Chrissy King is another one who has written a book that's really groundbreaking and move-making. And it became very obvious very quickly who was reluctant to have those conversations. And, honestly, I had never, prior to 2015 or so, made generalizations around men.

I just never. Cis, het, white, straight, able-bodied men. I wasn't batching. And then I started... I'm a late-diagnosed ADHD person, and one of the things that I think made me successful in other iterations was I love the hyper-focus type. Less squirrel squirrel and more whatever it is one track and all the way in. And so I set about having conversations about the readings and the learnings that I was privy to, and the reactions were so similar that I ended up trying to convey that. And I think, no, I did.

I have done many things wrong or botched many communications around this, and I wish I could have a redo because I would like to. And I can also look back and look at how highly repetitious and also how I try to adjust communication every single time. And my early attempts were so soft. And they all are. Very much looking in the mirror too. What did I miss? Why did I miss it? What does that say? What does that mean?

But the replication of those conversations was so eerily similar that it felt like I was hearing a script read back to me. Now, white women were more of a mixed bag. There were lots of tears and some denial and/or, "Okay, yes" and then a heading off into direction. And it's hard to describe how same it was without sounding... And I still am trying to make sense of it.

And I think a lot of those conversations are how I ended up... You pull on one thread and the whole thing unravels. And what's happening in the fitness industry, I think, is very obvious because it happens on the level of the body. And so you really get some literal iterations of judgments and of basis and you pull that thread and it leads to climate change. It's the same reason we... Powers that be, elected or not, corporate power, there's still the same unwillingness to face consequence, to face really how we got here.

I guess, honestly, I think on a level, I'm speaking to the same concepts that have blown up around critical race theory. That's accounting, and I've become kind of obsessed with accounting lately. There's a really great Money on the Left Editorial Collective podcast episode with Paolo Quattrone about accounting and about the art of accounting, meaning the way accounting was first concepted, it’s, okay, you take stock of what is available in order to solve the problems of the issues at hand, what's happening in society. So you use the resources and apply to solve problems rather than this very stiff, less artful version of numbers. "We have to hit this number at all costs with no consequences." And it is like, "Well, we got here in some very clear ways that can be accounted for and that need to be accounted for."

Karina Inkster: Interesting. I want to follow that thread. I like that analogy of you pull one thread and then it just unravels everything, between the fitness industry and other areas like climate change or the environment at large. But do you have some examples or potential scenarios where you would've said something to someone and then received this similar response? Is it about bodies? Is it about access? Is it about diversity? Is it all of those things where you're pointing something out to someone like, "Hey, this is actually not acceptable?"

Jen Sinkler: It's all of the above. It could be on anything under an umbrella of like, "Hey, so when you make comments about fat people, when you share an article that has disparaging remarks about any sort of body, back up a step. See what that means." Here's what happened over and over. A conflation between personal and systemic. Because I think, honestly, what's true about most of us, and I'm always including myself first and foremost, I'm looking at my own approach to every single thing, but I think we're wildly emotionally immature in our current society.

We just haven't put a lot of stock in receiving feedback, learning how to receive feedback, learning how to do that in a way that doesn't conflate feedback with a personal attack. And so it tended to be that anything, it was immediate defense. It's almost like, have you heard of DARVO? It's essentially you reverse the roles from defense to offense. And so it would be, "Here's how I support women" or, "Me? I would never."

Karina Inkster: It's kind like the concept of white fragility, that book about white fragility that that's actually a defense mechanism almost. And it feels like a personal attack when, actually, it's just feedback.

Jen Sinkler: Right. And we've failed to develop a lot of the softer skills that would allow for us to receive feedback in a way that doesn't conflate those issues. And it's really important that we do, and it's really important that we do much, much faster than we are. And, yeah, I have hope and also I think if we go back to that 2017 era when really, really there was an opportunity, especially with white women in positions of exposure, and again, I'm counting myself in this.

And I'm thinking particularly of an event that was run by women or girls' strength organization where at first it was like, "Okay, you know what, we're going to take stock of," and again, there's accounting again, "of which men, who around us is getting into the mix." And that was the direction that we could have and maybe were heading for a second, but then you really get a good view of what organizations are still interlaced with a lot of men who are, say, in advisorship roles that are then taking it super personally.

And so they're saying, "No, no, this is bad business. Go the other way. Go the way, go the other way." And I was really receiving that feedback and I had my own wake-up calls around... I was really like, "Once you know, you cannot unknow." That's my position on it. So my writing, what I was interested in, what I was reading, what I was sharing, changed completely. And I kept hearing from those in advisor roles with me, it was like, "Jen, they don't want that from you. They don't want that from you." And whoever they are. And there's a reason. It's all the same reason over and over, but it could have gone a different way. And then you watched the backtracking and it's like Homer Simpson when he backs into the bush and the bush closes around him.

Karina Inkster: Classic.

Jen Sinkler: Yeah. You're just trying to be then not noticed or not rock the boat or not... It's a different look at sort of... I'm thinking about Kate Manne, who is a philosopher, and wrote this really great book I loved called Down Girl. And she was talking about, I think, in her subsequent book talking about Brett 

Kavanaugh and when he was faced with allegations of rape, then he became extremely angry. And that anger, all women are conditioned to react to anger in a way that kowtows a little bit.

And I think that that's sort of the same dynamic of in the beginning to speak out and then the receiving of negative feedback like that, "How dare you" and, "Not me." I started thinking about it as a counterpoint to the Me Too movement begun by Tarana Burke as a Not Me Too movement. Not Me Too. It's not Me Too. And that, at least operationally, seemed like the most important thing was to not be lumped in. And so I had begun in these conversations, and I mean hundreds and hundreds, I am nothing if not willing to repeat. And that was part of fitness philosophy, too, honestly. It always is. Just always a little bit different, but willing to repeat. It just came up the same thing again and again and again. And I think I just lost my train of thought. Hello, ADHD.

Karina Inkster: No, that's okay. It's all good. Well, I assume that these reasons are partially, if not mostly, why your work has taken a different direction, but let's backtrack a little bit to Jen from, I don't know, let's say, 10 years ago in the height of fitness career, creating fitness programming, writing. Tell me a little bit about what that work was like when you were in it. I think you had a program that I might've even signed up for years ago. Were you on The Fitness Project?

Jen Sinkler: Was it Bigness Fitness Project? Kourtney Thomas's program?

Karina Inkster: Yes.

Jen Sinkler: Yes, that was her trophy program.

Karina Inkster: Yeah, exactly. So what was that like? What kind of work were you doing at that point?

Jen Sinkler: Well, I was in a sort of fitness publishing role at that point. And so I entered the fitness industry in 2003 as a fitness editor and very shortly after realized that... I had a background as an athlete and used to play rugby for a number of teams, including the U.S. team for sevens and fifteens. Love rugby and honestly credit women's rugby, let me be clear, women's rugby, the culture of women's rugby is a really beautiful community. Queer and accepting. And it's the sport that not only accepts but desires and requires all body types. You need somebody for every job.

As an athlete, I was like, "Do it like this." And I realized I couldn't even write an exercise description at that point. So I started taking fitness certifications and training under different, like Jason C. Brown and Pamela MacLeree and Robert Dos Remedios and spending a lot of time learning how they were coaching. And it was such a great experience. I worked for Experience Life Magazine for just about a decade, and that's a fitness magazine. I think they've moved a little bit toward a membership magazine now. It is published by the gym chain Lifetime Fitness, but at the point I worked for them, there was a large subscriber base outside of the gym members as well. So had a reach of about 3 million and we had a long leash. We got to do and pursue because we didn't have to worry about ad content.

There's the tension between advertising and editorial, and we just didn't have to deal with a lot of that or the ways we did, our Editor-in-Chief Pilar Gerasimo, at that point, she shut down even ads for diet soda. That was a, "No, because we can't be writing articles about the dangers of and the consequences of things like aspartame and then have ads for Diet Coke. It just doesn't work." 

And so I think that I developed an antagonism or maybe already had a natural antagonism with that relationship. And then, yeah, it was 2013, the very beginning of 2013, I went out on my own and assumed a fitness publisher role with the skills that I had developed at the magazine. And so got to work with a range of really brilliant coaches and put out their programs and also put out my own, which was Lift Weights Faster.

And that's the repetition thing. It really was Lift Weights Faster at any and every speed. And as far as patterns go, yes, we do need to return to basic patterns and push, pull, hinge, lunge. And I really love the fitness content you put out, may I just say? Love it.

Karina Inkster: Oh, thanks.

Jen Sinkler: Love it.

Karina Inkster: Well, thanks.

Jen Sinkler: And yes, it's a return to those patterns, but I don't think it has to be the same. I think it can be just a little bit different every single time. And, for me, I need high, high variety even within the patterns. And I got to learn at that point just how far you could go under that sort of model. And I look back, and I have shut down my fitness websites at this point, but I was writing for Men's Health, Women's Health and a range of other fitness magazines at that point, but by 2014, I was writing rebuttals to my own fitness articles because of the edits that got made.

In 2014, I think it was an article on the beauty of women lifting weights. And at that point, at that juncture, there was still... And the water's changed quite a lot for a whole host of reasons, including CrossFit as a mixed bag. But one of the positives was how much that opened some doors for women lifting weights. And I think that a lot of us did a lot of really great work in that area. And one of my fitness features, by the time it got published, the headline said, "Strong is the New Skinny." And that was not...

I can't then share that article and be like, "Yeah, see, look" without also saying, "This is what happens behind the scenes at a magazine when you've got editors who are trying to meet who they think their audience is." And I have a lot of questions around audience. Adele Martinez-Jackson, she's got a lot of questions about... At the end of the day, there is no audience. Every single one person is an individual, so you really can't package for a general audience. And then I think that a lot goes can go sideways when you're trying to not upset or meet the expectations of a certain audience or judging what people are and are not ready to hear.

Karina Inkster: Right. That's a good point. I can relate to that as well in the writing world. There was an article one time that I wrote for a magazine that ended up coming out side by side with another article as a pro and con piece unbeknownst to me.

Jen Sinkler: No.

Karina Inkster: They didn't even tell me that it was going to be a side of, I think it was about nutrition or macros or something. That is not professional editorial behaviour. And also on that note, though, there's things that I have written for sure that did not get edited from years back that I cringe at. In my first book, which came out in 2014, I use terms like, I think clean eating is in there at least once. And that's not a term I use at all. And I think this just kind of shows the process of how the industry itself is changing, but we as individuals also can learn new things and we can adjust and figure out as we go along better ways of communicating.

Jen Sinkler: Oh, a hundred percent. A hundred percent. That's the goal. I look back and have the same sort of like, "Ooh, no." And for me, there's a lot around... I can remember these underlying feelings of I remember being at a fitness conference once and walking into a room just in time to hear the instructor... It was a kettlebell session. And I walked into the room just in time to hear the instructor say, "If your back hurts, it's your fault. You are doing it wrong." And it's like, "Come on"-

Karina Inkster: Oh, yikes.

Jen Sinkler: Form is like everything else, really specific to the individual. And it's not a cookie-cutter situation, and it shouldn't be a cookie-cutter situation. And I think there's a desire and a wish that I really understand for spoon-feeding answers and clear-cut situations where it's like, "This is right and this is wrong," but it's not the reality and it can't be, and it shouldn't be, and we shouldn't really want it to be.

Karina Inkster: That's a good point. So how did you transition from that work, the writing, the publishing, the programming, into the work that you do now?

Jen Sinkler: Honestly, a breakdown, kind of a breakdown, I had no experience in organizing whatsoever when I first... And you can see even the way I described what I was doing, it was on a very individual basis, which that has to be part of it. And relationships are at the core of everything always. But it was very much like, "I'm going to go talk to these people." I was trying to leverage what would've been, at that point to borrow a term from Seth Godin, sort of a "famous in the family" orientation or exposure.

And it didn't go the way I hoped or thought. I was very naive about it. And, again, taking these swings on an individual basis. And by the time I was like, "All right, I really need to figure out a different way to use my time,” because I just felt like I was not being effective, burning up some relationships that I wouldn't have wanted to because I was pushing hard. Or maybe I look and I'm like, "Well, control dynamics" or I'm always am trying to figure out where I can adjust my own behaviour.

And so it's how I ended up back in Iowa, honestly. I felt like I needed to come home and get healthy. And mentally and emotionally, I feel like, yep, I got to do that. And I've gotten to learn a lot about organizing on a local level and really figure out... I'm in a really small community, and it reminds me, I moved here from Philadelphia, it honestly reminds me of Philadelphia in a lot of ways. You can live a really whole, complete, beautiful life in a two-block radius where you have everything or most of what you need. And so there are so many similarities in communities, and it would be a neighbourhood reflection in Philly, but in ways that things work. And I also have gotten a much better look at the ways that things don't work and how that breaks down.

And I just couldn't turn the channel. Once again, I was like, "Huh, these dynamics are built into all of this stuff, all of it." And Iowa, while I've gotten healthy in certain ways, physically, my health has taken quite a hit. And I don't think that it is only due to COVID. We are the most ecologically damaged state in the nation, to borrow a phrase from the Executive Director of Great Plains Action Society, Sikowis Nobiss. And she's right. We have poisoned and eradicated topsoil. Our water is absolute garbage. There are so many particulates in the air. And family farms have been decimated. The way the agriculture is done now here, and everywhere, but here, there is an extremely outsized impact because of the herbicides, the fungicides, pesticides. Planes and helicopters and drones are going by all the time spraying, spraying, spraying.

I didn't realize because I'm from a farm extended family here, but not my immediate family was. While we are in a small town, I just didn't know about, I didn't grow up touring or anything like that. And so I didn't know about the processes involved. And they've changed so much even in the last five, 10 years. We are decimating animal species. There is an entomologist, Jonathan Lundgren is his name, and I am a huge fan of his work. He ended up getting ousted, my understanding is, from the USDA because he was in a whistleblower role because he was like, "Well, the way we're doing agriculture, it's wiping out insects." And what he says is, "As go the insects, so go we." And his estimate is that we have literally 10 years left of life on Earth.

And it is that serious what we're doing. And I credit Erin Brown with a lot of where and what I've learned in terms of scale of change. And she had been organizing for a great long time, and I hadn't. So I think it was a real shock to me. And once I knew, I was like, "This is a huge scale change." And I think that a lot of white feminism focuses on, "Just do a little bit. Just do little changes and just a little bit of what you can." But the word can isn't really interrogated or expanded. Is more possible? And what we need are more eyes on the bigger, bigger picture. Less obsession with murder podcasts and more, "Okay, how do we really shift on a bigger scale? How do we demand change?" We can't just keep doing all of the things that we're doing down to...

Iowa politics are particularly messy. And Iowa gets overlooked. We're a flyover state as it is, but some of what's happening here is some of the nastiest around, truly some of the nastiest around. Our legislature just passed some child labor laws, for instance, and Iowa's at the forefront of that. It's a really interesting place in that it's a high, high-impact place. The ways that we do agriculture here, for example, leads to about half of the pollution in the upper Mississippi River Basin, 60% of the Missouri River Basin, which means that we are the largest contributor to the dead zone and the algal blooms that are happening down there, that's Iowa. We have 5% of the landmass, but such a huge, outsized impact. And Iowa's impact is enormous on a number of scales. For instance, so at University of Iowa, the writing program there, I think, seeded something like, I might be misquoting this and don’t hold me to this exactly, but our writing program seeded the writing programs of, I don't know, something like 50% of the other programs emerged from here.

And we've always had this. It's kind of a gender-bendy place in ways that are really hard to explain. And one of the reasons I came back was like, "Okay, I want some..." I was very literal about the do-over. And also, it felt really interesting to discover the ways that every place has language and the language that I knew from having grown up here down to you've got to know when to look when you wave at somebody in the car. Because when you're from a small town, everybody knows everything, or a lot of people know a lot of things. And so you've got to turn your head at a particular point in order to time it exactly right. It's one of the determinants for, "Do you know the language?" Oh gosh, I lost my train of thought again because I got excited about the waving.

Karina Inkster: Well, your work now is in this realm. More environmental dietary choices, how they affect the environment, climate change. So what are some of the things that you're working on currently?

Jen Sinkler: Well, I am working on a lot about water health. I've gotten involved with a number of local organizations. Powesheik Cares, for one. Iowa CCI, which is Citizens for Community Improvement. And it's trying to take a look at it. It's all about, for me now, trying to look at the bigger picture of what we're doing and we have to get plugged in. And I'm trying to leverage my skills as an editor and a translator of sorts. And that's not to depower being on the receiving end of any sort of information. It's all, "Come get involved." But it is breaking down the concepts of what is happening because I think we would like to think that we're being taken care of in X, Y, or Z way. "Oh yeah, they know, and so I don't have to plug into that."

That was me. That was me. Up to eight years ago, I was like, "Well, I guess I'm not going to be a politics person. I'm just not going to." But since I've learned to lobby, and I've gotten to speak to some of our representatives here... For instance, there are a lot of industries here that are being propped up based on surplus crops. We are the number one producer of corn, of soybeans and of eggs. Now, I'm not counting eggs as surplus, but I live eight miles south of 10 million chickens. And I now know the smell of chicken shit when it's just spread all over the fields, untreated, antibiotic and disease-laced manure, and it washes straight into the river. The systems, as they're set up with farm subsidies, the farmers are going... And they're often renting lands. It's harder and harder to rent land. The vast, vast, vast majority of farmers here are white, down to the 99th percentage.

Silvia Secchi, who's a researcher out of the University of Iowa, has a lot to say about a lot of this. I'm trying to write my frigging face off and get involved with organizations like Progress Iowa. And let's figure out how more of us can get involved on a broader scale. We have to plug in. The consequences are nothing short of life and death. And we don't have the kind of time that even if you don't buy into the 10-year cycle, we've had just the weirdest weather. And it's not just about the acute instances. It is a creep and it's a not-so-slow creep and we're crossing all sorts of thresholds. So it really is an emergency situation. And there's just not a possibility for me, I don't think, to go about any sort of business as usual that doesn't involve alert, alert, alert, alert.

And I think that this is maybe part for me of ADHD and other neurodivergences too. When I was saying, "Hey, it's fun to lift weights. Come on over." That was easy to support. And then it became less easy to support when I was like, "Hey, we have to change almost everything about the way we do everything." Then it's, "Look away and go away please." And I do get that. I hear myself being like...

I'm not perfect at messaging. And I do want to say again and again, "I'm talking about me too. I'm looking at myself too. Truly, I'm looking at myself first and what kind of changes can we work..." Everybody deserves to eat. Here, the Iowa legislature, I keep saying that wrong, are cutting SNAP benefits, are making it really difficult to apply for assistance, putting up more and more barriers to help.

And I learned recently here, too, the unhoused population, the unofficial way of dealing with someone who shows up who needs that kind of help, is to take them to the county line. Keep them moving. And at some point, at all points, it's got to shift. We've got to get more involved. More of us have to get more involved on every level. So I'm trying to... For myself, that ends up being writing, though I will say the organizing in all sorts... I'd never made signs and gone to the capitol and, again, spoken directly to legislature. Now, look, now I'm supposed to say legislators.

Anyway, so yeah, we'll see where it goes. I'm interviewing for some jobs right now that would specifically speak to rural issues. Because Iowa, in particular, we are in a sacrifice zone. And I do think, for us, it has to do with... And so most of our small towns, which that's really to me the beautiful part about Iowa, these towns where the care network is so visible and there you come up with systems.

And Imani Perry, who has written a great number of brilliant books, but South to America, while she was promoting South America, she was talking about some of the similarities between the Midwest, the U.S. Midwest and the U.S. South. And one of the things she said was that country people know how to fold in difference. And I think that's really true because really you're dealing with the same people. There is no option to be absorbed in a larger community. It's like, "This is who's here, and so this is who you're dealing with.” And so this is who you learn to deal with and love and accept and be with.

Now, there is a real edge to that that can involve whether you're from here or not. And there are plenty of problems, too. The same sorts of problems that are everywhere are here. And the way you can see it, really see it, is that that is true. What Imani Perry is saying is true. You learn to fold in difference and respect and uplift that, which is as it should be.

Karina Inkster: Absolutely. You've mentioned the larger systemic changes that need to happen on a grand scale in terms of things like agriculture and anything environmental-related, probably things like subsidies and just the system in general. What about the smaller actions that still can make a difference that I think we should also consider, not at the exclusion of the larger systemic changes, of course. But last time we chatted, we talked about things like dietary changes and eating more plant-based as a way of addressing some of these issues. Where are you at with the individual action side, particularly when it comes to dietary choices?

Jen Sinkler: Ooh, that's such a good question. Well, and on the topic of individual choices, is it Ayana Johnson, it's How To Save A Planet Podcast. She was the co-host, and there was an episode about individual choice in particular. And she had said... Because one person's actions, you really can be like, "Well, it doesn't matter what I do," which is true from a certain vantage point. But what she said was, "Where it starts mattering is the ripples."

So, yes, it doesn't matter if you yourself don't fly, but it can matter if a culmination occurs or a replication of that occurs, the conversation and the building, which to me is really inspiring. And thank you, by the way, for the work you do around nutrition because you've influenced me greatly when it comes to making more vegan choices as well as... For several years prior, a couple friends in Minnesota had been like, "Hey, so you're going to want to start looking at this more because of the consequence of what it takes in this animal cruelty, of course."

And also resources. Resources. And part of what's happening here is unsustainable industry gets propped up from the waste products coming out of, say, all sorts of plants. Now the latest is there's a soybean crushing plant because biofuel and oh, the soybean, some of the waste product goes to feed animals that are in the CAFOs, the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, where they're just packed in there, packed in there and packed full of antibiotics to keep them just barely not sick enough to you know…

Karina Inkster: Right.

Jen Sinkler: And still, there's bird flu. It's just an absolute mess. And I think that it's that concept that I think Ayana Johnson had referred to. On an individual basis, you're not going to, say, make a dent. And together we can and will if we can pass along and communicate and work together more and more and more. This is my second year growing a garden.

Karina Inkster: That's an interesting idea.

Jen Sinkler: I know, right? And it makes sense. It's like everything else. I'm trying to learn how to grow food and grow salad, in particular. Last year I planted a bunch of kale and ended up... I'm still laughing about one of my friends who'd been driving through on her way back home to California and I made some kale salad last summer and she was like, "This tastes so green." And she meant it as a compliment.

Karina Inkster: Of course.

Jen Sinkler: And this year, got the kale in again. I forgot again to mark the green beans. I have a wasabi arugula that I am so excited about and butterhead lettuce. And you do see some of the smaller farmers. There's a garden oasis farm up in northern Iowa that grows an immense amount of food on 10 acres. And there's a new four-story hydroponic butterhead lettuce with drive-through salad, with a drive-through salad restaurant in, I think Ames, Iowa.

Karina Inkster: Oh, cool.

Jen Sinkler: And there's all these opportunities to grow real food again because, as it is right now, we're not growing real food. I remember it wasn't even so many years ago when I came home and people who come to or through Iowa, they're like, "Wow, this is so much corn." But they're picturing that as sweet corn and it's not sweet corn. It's field corn. You can't eat it. And, in fact, it's 50 or 60% is burned up for ethanol. And ethanol is a fuel that while it gets billed as a greener choice, that's only accounting for what comes out of your tailpipe. It does not account for the ways that it is farmed. It doesn't account for all of the many petro-heavy ways that it's grown. The pollution, the detrimental effects to the water, to the air, to people. This is a sneak preview, I guess - I hear from a researcher here in Iowa that there is a paper working itself through, I believe, the USDA that talks about specifically Iowans developing a very strong resistance to antibiotics because of what washes into our water.

Because, again, the untreated waste that gets applied to all these fields and gets washed into the water. There's just no way that we can treat what is happening. And this is Silvia Secchi again says that Iowans spend money on water three times. First, they pay polluters to pollute. Then they pay the water systems to clean the water, and then they pay to buy water that's not from here. And it's true. And when I had started getting sick, my health took a... I clawed a little bit back when I stopped drinking the water, when I stopped eating meat from CAFOs, when I really started looking at the individual choices that I was making, and I was able to see a difference on a personal level.

Karina Inkster: Well, I think those are often what keep folks going. The larger ideological reasons and the concept that you're talking about here of the collective actions of individuals making a difference, which we see in the vegan world all the time, by the way. How many more vegans there are now, or just people who are eating more plant-based, not even a hundred percent. It's making a difference in what's being offered in the market. It's making a difference to individual companies.

We've heard multiple times of dairy farmers or companies switching over into being almond milk producers or oat milk producers or whatever, just based on market demand. So clearly we, as a collective, as consumers are having a difference here or making a difference here. But I think what you're talking about from a personal level, "Oh, well, I notice health effects and I notice how I'm feeling and I notice how these choices have changed my illness," those are pretty important to keep in mind because they keep people going long enough to influence others to do the same thing, and then we have this collective.

Jen Sinkler: Yes, yes, exactly that. And it's like, "Okay, so if you need the personal threat, well, global warming and COVID, that combination is leading to a huge spike in resistant fungal infections, for example." This isn't always going to be a catastrophic thing. It's just like, "Oh." What is the show? I have not watched it. I'm not a fan of horror, to be honest. But what is it, The Fungus Among Us?

Karina Inkster: Oh, the-

Jen Sinkler: Not The Fungus Among Us. Yes. Although that is a good article.

Karina Inkster: it’s not in my brain right now.

Jen Sinkler: Yeah, it's just-

Karina Inkster: I know what you mean. I watch the show and I can't even think of the title.

Jen Sinkler: That's how it goes, right? Sometimes I'm like, "Did I watch that?"

Karina Inkster: Yeah. But, yeah, it's an interesting point where the individual actions need to be motivated, I think, on an individual level. We need to feel that we're doing something that's positive for ourselves just as humans. It's kind of how our brains work. But we also can know at the same time that they're affecting something larger.

Jen Sinkler: Yeah, that's super well said.

Karina Inkster: So what are some things that are coming up for you? Projects, things you're working on, things you want to change in Iowa? I'm sure this is a loaded question because there's probably 15 of them.

Jen Sinkler: There are 15 of them, but that's the best of the best. Like a lot going on. I might head to southern Iowa. There is an opportunity to do some writing in a county that is less red and maybe more prone to changing tunes. I'm also working on an art project, again a reference to Sikowis Nobiss with Great Plains Action Society. She was like, "Do not overlook the impact that art can have."

And so there's a group, there's a collective, we're calling ourselves Collective Greetings. We are going to be a greeting card company. And we're going to try to get some education out around different issues. Around water, around air, around soil, around food, and produce greeting cards, and come up with a subscription system. We're going to print locally and also use that as ways to raise money for... As federal funds dry up or as... We've got a governor who sends back federal funds instead of passing the money along to Iowans, she wants to prove, who knows what, how tough she is, how tough we are, which I think is actually part of the problem with the Midwest toughness.

We're toughing out too much. We shouldn't actually have to be doing this. So I'm trying to figure out ways to work in team that creates, helps to create new types of systems where we can build our own sorts of ecosystems. I am constantly thinking about the luck that I didn't have with... Nobody likes a critic or that's a rougher road. I think that's real. I love critics. I love critics and learn so much from them. And there has to be a good deal of building as well. So I'm trying to put my eggs in an art basket and see what we can do to send messages out in different form and different possibilities.

Karina Inkster: Wow, that's exciting. I did not know about this art project.

Jen Sinkler: I'm excited about it. Yeah, it's a bunch of us who really haven't been able to or are having a tough time fitting into a particular. And so we're trying to figure out new ways that we can operate that also honour our own energy, availability, and ability for a whole host of things. And that leverage each of our individual strengths as well. It's a very egalitarian... There is no hierarchy. It is people are coming in as they can with the skills that they have.

Karina Inkster: That's brilliant.

Jen Sinkler: It's great. And there's so much. The art is blowing my mind.

Karina Inkster: That's amazing. Well, Jen, it was great to speak with you. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Much appreciated.

Jen Sinkler: Thank you for having me and for doing the work that you do. This was a lot of fun.

Karina Inkster: Jen, thanks again for speaking with me today. Fantastic to have you on the show. Head to our show notes at to connect with Jen. And don't forget to check out my coaching programs Thanks for listening.

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