All posts by Kat Kinsman

If you can’t stand the heat…

Humans aren’t made of asbestos or cast iron, as useful as that would be. They scorch, they scar, they bleed. Much of this wear and tear is just part of the job in a restaurant or on a farm. For plenty of people, it’s part of the draw. They live for the adrenaline rush, the blaze, the rawness of it all. It is by turns (and sometimes simultaneously) primal and delicate, brutal and nuanced—and it takes a special sort of masochism to thrive in that environment.

Anyone who wants to excel (and keep getting paid) is going to throw themselves into the heat of battle and work until they burn. Sometimes they burn all the way up.

A few anonymous answers from my ongoing mental health survey (360 responses and counting):

“After working 60-hour weeks in a kitchen for three-plus years I battled addiction and developed a chronic illness, cyclical vomiting syndrome, which has left me unable to work since. It’s been two years since then. I feel if I had received the support I needed in the moment, I would never have reached this point.”

Continue reading If you can’t stand the heat…

Some early press (and how to help)

Thanks so much to Whitney Filloon and Daniela Galarza of Eater for reaching out to talk about the project and spread the word. At last peek, 270+ people had filled out the mental health survey. I’m going through the responses, contacting people, and will be sharing what I can (while absolutely respecting anonymity).

Whitney asked was what the end goal is. That’s a great question. I know what I want it to be: A bigger movement, or a foundation or a conference addressing the issues around mental health in the food industry, so people can get the help and empathy they deserve. But this is the beginning, and honestly, I’m terrified of screwing this up, when I know how much is at stake.

I know what my skill set is. I’m good at helping people tell their stories, feel safe and find community. If you’d like to tell me yours, either by writing it down or talking to me (I’m setting up interviews), that would be marvelous.

For bigger organizational aspects, I’ll need help. If you would care to volunteer your time or skill, please get in touch.

And if you just want to read or share, that is marvelous, too. It’s why this exists.

Eater: ‘Chefs With Issues’ Hopes to Destigmatize Mental Health Issues in the Restaurant Industry

Farmers with issues

The site is called Chefs with Issues, but it’s intended to be open to anyone in the food industry. In my work at CNN Eatocracy, I spent a lot of time talking with farmers, so much so that we created a separate category called Farmers with Issues. In going through survey answers (more than 110 at this point), I was saddened, but not surprised to see the response above, from a farmer.

I’ll be sharing more statistics and personal stories soon, but many people don’t know that that farming has one of the highest rates of suicide of any profession. The food industry couldn’t exist without the contributions and sacrifices of these people. Let’s get them the care they need, starting at the roots.

*One great resource is nyfarmnet.org

Come to the party

Hello, fine people. I’m tearing up as the responses to the mental health survey come in. More than one hundred of them have come in thus far, and people are pouring out their hearts. Some are remaining anonymous and I will always respect that, and others are stepping forward to speak their piece. You’ll see some of those published soon and I welcome more voices. I don’t want this to be a solo project.

What’s standing out to me thus far is that well over half of the respondents say they have remained completely silent about what they’re going through. Mainly because they don’t want to be thought of as crazy, seen as weak or even bullied because of what they’re going through. This is something that we’re doing to each other. Seeing another human in pain and dismissing that because of its origin seems antithetical to what the industry is about: Hospitality, sustenance, welcoming.

Let’s give each other a break in 2016, maybe? Mental illness isn’t catching, but empathy is.

Also: Currently, 66% of respondents are saying they’re using alcohol to seek relief (plenty of other substances, too—y’all like to smoke up!). I certainly enjoy a cocktail, myself, but I’m getting the sense from responses that a certain amount of this is about self-medicating. If there’s someone out there in the community with more experience who would care to get involved and perhaps address the substance abuse or addition aspects of this, or share right here.

Feeding my beast

I tried to win friends with sugar because I was sure that was the only way I could. Other kids were cooler, prettier, had fancier toys, but I figured out early on that if I could bake and make extra-strong Kool-Aid, they’d keep coming to my house. The good ones came back even when the pitcher ran dry and the pan was empty, but I always felt a little guilty for not having anything to feed them.

I suppose that meant something like friendship, and certainly community. Even as a kid, I knew my people when I saw them—the ones who got quiet for a minute while taking that first bite, maybe even closed their eyes to shrink their universe down to the tip of their tongue. And then, AND THEN, they’d want to talk about it.

E. did. Even though he’d been practically wedded to my best friend since before any of us could drive, when we all ate together, E. and I were tuned into a channel only the two of us could hear.

“Is that ginger? I think it’s fresh ginger.”

“I dunno, my mom only has it powdered in the spice cabinet, but I’m gonna find out.”

“I want to try this recipe, but it calls for…tamarind.? What the hell is that and where can we get it?”

“I guess I can go try Kroger?”

“Dude, that would be awesome. When I’m a chef and I open my own place, you’re totally my taster, right?”

“Totally.”

And he totally did marry my friend and become a chef, but the restaurant—his restaurant—never happened because the drugs bled the dream out of him first. I don’t know, maybe this thing was coiled up inside him all along, and the heat of the kitchen made it wake, swell and strike. Maybe it slithered out from the grease trap and wound around him slowly, but either way, he was stuck. He stopped coming home to his wife, daughter and twins-to-be, preferring the company of the people in the half-shadows, like him. When he did show up at the kitchen table, sweaty and bloody-knuckled (a server’s ex had needed to be taught a lesson—and yes of course, he was screwing her), I could no longer tune into his frequency.

He’s a chef, my friend and I nodded. That’s just what happens to them. That’s what we had learned at 24.
Continue reading Feeding my beast