A chef speaks: On suicide and the industry

Clark Barlowe is the executive chef-owner of Heirloom restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina. He recently wrote a blog post called “Suicide in the Culinary Industry” and it’s worth your time. An excerpt:

“If you had asked me two years ago what my reaction would be to an iconic chef’s suicide, I honestly don’t know how I would have answered you. Most likely I would have read the articles, compartmentalized the issue and gone on with my day. I have learned that relationships make us who we are however, and my partner is a PhD student who researches mental health promotion and substance abuse prevention, as well as suicide prevention. For this reason, I had a different reaction while reading the news surrounding Chef Violier’s death. I grieved for the loss, but I also tried to understand the issue.

Suicide is complex; we should not try to fit it in to a neat box to make ourselves feel comfortable with the situation. We have to embrace the uncomfortable nature of the issue we are dealing with, as well as understand that this issue cannot be normalized to the point we feel we don’t need to discuss it. We should be comfortable with this embracement of the uncomfortable- we do this to ourselves daily: staff, product, customers, all of these variables have the opportunity to make us uncomfortable on any given day, yet we are equipped to deal with them. Let’s use this situation as an opportunity to equip ourselves with a new set of skills that include open communication and understanding of our peers and then use that to affect broader societal change.

Chefs have become known as activists in the world wide community, but we have forgotten to nurture our own. We are a culture that cares deeply about the projects and ideals we are passionate about, and are generous with our time and resources when it comes to supporting them. We work with non-profits on what seems to be a daily basis, we take up causes we believe strongly in, most of which expectedly revolve around food, even when it seems our time is limited at best. We are now confronted with an issue that transcends our industry and it falls to a culture such as ours to provide an example of how to grasp it.”

Read the rest on Heirloom’s website.

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Reason 10,000 why Andrew Zimmern is a personal hero

From Andrew Zimmern’s website:

“Devoted to celebrating, nurturing and preserving America’s diverse culinary heritage, the James Beard Foundation is very dear to me. I’m excited to offer the Second Chances Scholarship again this year. The $10,000 scholarship will offer a student faced with extreme challenges—whether health, addiction, family, unemployment, etc.—a second chance to overcome these hardships and follow a culinary path. I was once given a second chance myself after struggling with addiction, and it’s important for me that others are given the same opportunity to turn their lives around. I couldn’t think of a better organization to donate to.”

See more information on how to apply at andrewzimmern.com

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We have the power to make it stop.

Just a note: I haven’t been posting here as much because I’ve been hunkered down on edits for my book “Hi, Anxiety,” but in the past week I’ve had the privilege of getting to speak about the issues around mental health and the food industry at both the annual Cherry Bombe Jubilee and the Chefs Collaborative Summit in New York City.

I was able to speak for a little bit longer at the former, on the same topic but geared a little bit more toward women in the food world, and this is roughly what I said.

I’m so incredibly grateful to be here today with all of you.

Our friends and colleagues are in pain and they are dying. We have the power to make it stop.

That might sound a little dire, but consider the fact that in February, the shortest month of the year, three (3) different chef-owners took their own lives. And those are just the restaurant workers who made the news. Doesn’t include, say, a manager who overdosed. A commis who finally succumbed to liver failure. A prep cook who got in his very last bar fight.

Or maybe for some reason, three doesn’t seem like much to you. Stuff happens. It’s just part of the industry. OK—at that rate, we’d be up to 36 in a year. 360 industry leaders dead in a decade. Can the industry afford to weather this loss? Can we as human beings?
Continue reading We have the power to make it stop.

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Power Hour: What Makes a Healthy Kitchen?

“What makes a kitchen healthy for employees? Healthy food for restaurant workers? One wage for FOH & BOH? Paid time off? Listen to Saru Jayaraman (Restaurant Opportunities Center United), chef Evan Hanczor (Egg), Kat Kinsman (Tasting Table) and Andrew Friedman (Toqueland, The Front Burner with Jimmy and Andrew) as they dive into approaches for creating a healthy kitchen, restaurant, and environment.”

Learn more about Chef Power Hours at Chefs Collaborative.

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Boston Globe: Why working in the restaurant industry can be hard on your mental health

“There’s a Sisyphean nature to the work,” says Strack, who studied psychology before becoming a restaurateur. “It’s accepting and welcoming, but at the same time, there’s an unrelenting nature, which is going to find you out sooner or later. Restaurants are creative and artistic communities with a higher tolerance for eccentric behavior. People are drawn here because it’s an alternative lifestyle. It’s fundamentally different than a 9 to 5 job.”—Kara Baskin

Read “Why working in the restaurant industry can be hard on your mental health” in The Boston Globe.

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