I remain utterly gobsmacked that chef Rene Redzepi and his team at Noma and MAD Symposium invited me onto their stage to speak about the mental health crisis in the restaurant industry. I am more grateful than I could possibly express to them and to another of my idols, chef Jessica Largey, for opening up her heart and soul to me and allowing me to share her story with the audience there.
This is approximately what I said, and on National Depression Screening Day, I wanted to let people in the food industry know that they’re not alone.
Hi there. I’m Kat. I’m mentally ill.
That’s not usually what I lead off with, but I’m not ashamed of it—it’s just part of who I am, and it doesn’t make me feel weak to let you know that.
I also want to tell you that I love you. God, I love chefs, and people who choose to make their living in food. You feed people and take care of them. It’s the thing that consumes you and the people you choose to surround yourselves with the vast majority of the time. You wake up thinking of the food you want to serve and how you can make it better—make it perfect. How you can make your guests even happier and feel even more taken care of.
But we’re not taking care of YOU.
YOU’RE not taking care of you.
And you’re not taking care of each other—and you’re too afraid to ask.
And it’s killing you.
Continue reading MAD Symposium: What’s Killing the Restaurant Industry
I am so grateful to and impressed by my friend, chef Daniel Patterson, for writing this raw, honest, gorgeous essay about his struggles with depression and the crisis he sees in the industry he loves. Please share it with the people you know who need it.
“I mean, how many chefs you think are depressed, anyway? Like 95%?”
I was standing in a bar, talking with a chef friend. It was late. We were drinking. And talking about depression.
I’ve always had my ups and downs. Some days were harder than others. Some years were harder than others. I thought it was a more or less normal outgrowth of a flawed character, something I should accept, endure, survive. I never considered medication, though. I wasn’t one of those people.
Then something changed. Instead of bouncing back I fell lower and lower until I began to actually worry. It felt like the blood had been drained from my body and replaced with lead. I was barely functional, and even the simplest conversations required vast amounts of energy. Then one day I discovered that my creativity was dead, inaccessible to me, and that’s when I became scared enough to do something about it. I could live without many things but not that, so I called a doctor and made an appointment.”—Daniel Patterson
Read the rest of Speaking Out at MAD.
“My story is not unique in this business – if you get a good review, you go celebrate; with a bad review, you drown your sorrows. There are free drinks after work, then you all go out for late-night food and drinks, followed by an after party at someone’s house. ‘I’ll go out for just one,’ is a big joke in the industry because everyone knows you can’t have just one drink after work. So many people in the business overindulge regularly and it’s hard to get help – you’re scared of how it’s going to damage your reputation in the industry.”—Danny Mongeon
Read “Coming out of the darkness with chef Danny Mongeon” on Ottowa at Home
“The Scott Howell you don’t know almost died in 2014 after a 1,200-pound charcoal grill was dropped on him during its delivery. That Scott Howell spent the next four months taking doctor-prescribed pain killers, suffering from depression and ending up twice being checked into psychiatric hospitals.
‘I lost my way,’ Howell says. ‘I was a worn-out chef. I was a worn-out person.’
His recovery continues, but these past two years have changed the Scott Howell we thought we knew.”—Andrea Weigl
Read “The true story of a chef’s chef” in The News & Observer
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.