Category Archives: From the Comments

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.

Married to it

Plenty of professions present a challenge to the work/life balance. But restaurant work, with its demanding hours and ready access to alcohol and drugs can present particular challenges. Some thoughts on the topic from people who answered the mental health survey:

“It destroyed my 17 year marriage after the arrival of our child. We are currently going through a divorce.”

“I was going through some tough relationship stuff and I told my boss about it, and I ended up not leaving my partner, making me feel embarrassed that I was such a mess at work. Now I don’t think they see me as professional as they did before which gives me anxiety.”

“Both my wife and I are chefs—being married to someone in the industry has helped what was mostly a problem with seasonal depression. However, I feel that we also enable each other in some of the less healthy aspects of dealing with stress. We haven’t had issues with drinking, but it increases during the most stressful times of the year.”

“The worst part of the long weeks is the strain on my relationship, but I have to work.”

“Food and beverage is a pressure cooker. I am a wife, mother, and executive chef. At the end of the day, I constantly feel like I can’t do any of them right. I’m a perfectionist.

I always said I would have it all. Now I realize you can, just not all at once.

There is no balance. You have to hope your husband sticks around and supports you and that your kid knows you love her even though you aren’t home to tuck her in or send her off to school. It’s painful when you finally manage to get out of work early and you go to pick up your kid from school and the after-school teacher doesn’t know who you are. It’s like lemon juice in small cuts. While you’re busy working you get keenly aware of where you are lacking as a wife and mother. There have been three moments in 15 years of my career where I felt like I was on top of it. Not even three DAYS, just three moments.

Technically, I am very successful—but it sure as hell doesn’t feel that way.”

“The overall state of the restaurant industry is a disaster. Drugs and alcohol are encouraged. You are considered an outcast if you don’t engage in these things. Drugs and alcohol almost destroyed my life and almost ruined my relationship. And the restaurant industry hugely contributed to this. Servers would literally leave coke in the bathrooms at one of the restaurants I worked at. It’s just insane.”

Here’s some more reading on the matter.

From the comments

“I’ve worked my way up and I am now an Executive Chef. I do everything I can to spare my staff the suffering, stress and pain both physical and emotional I went through. But I also have to put in 60++ hour weeks or suffer threats from my boss and constantly hear ‘that’s the job’ from the higher ups after I’ve put in more hours in front of the stoves than I had available to sleep month after month.

No one can keep up this pace but when I show signs of cracking mentally and physically, instead of support I get chewed out. I don’t drink or do drugs, but I can definitely understand the need to not have to be in this world by whatever means for whatever time you can.”

Here are a few resources for physical and mental support.

From the comments

“Been in the kitchen 35 years and have at points suffered from depression related to work situation. Used to keep hashmarks on the pad in my pocket on how many times I thought about killing myself a day. Was at a job where I had no life besides work. Saw no light at end of tunnel but moved to a family-owned place and got my life back.

Have dealt with addiction as well. You can’t complain because everyone else is doing it and you don’t want to be the cry baby.”