We’re keeping it real this month on Prince Street with a show about anxiety. We understand—it’s summer, time for ice cream and the beach. But we also know that nerves are not seasonal, especially when it comes to… food. On this episode, Phil Rosenthal, creator of the hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond and host of the award-winning I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, reveals one of the secrets of his success, and why he thinks more people should be anxious. Find out why author and food editor Kat Kinsman might disagree, especially when it comes to the dangerous kind of anxiety that increasingly afflicts people in the restaurant industry. Chef Erik Ramirez teaches Eden Grinshpan how to make Peruvian ceviche while swapping tips on how to reduce anxiety. Sierra Tishgart steals a moment with chef Jessica Koslow of LA’s Sqirl, who is launching two new projects while publishing her first cookbook at the same time. And Jay McInerney reads from his twelfth book, out this month, his latest novel, Bright Precious Days.
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.”
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.
“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.
“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.