“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.”
Over the past few years, my small talk at parties has gotten bigger. I’m not saying this because I’m an Wilde-esque conversationalist or an especially social butterfly—it’s just that when you write really nakedly about your own mental health, people feel safe opening up to you about theirs. That’s 89% of why I do it. (The other 11% is masochism, insomnia and lack of Law & Order reruns.)
So it stands to reason that at a party last week, a friend who is extraordinarily successful and well-regarded in the food industry started talking about their struggles with anxiety. I’m an especially public sufferer of that, so it’s far from the first time I’ve had this conversation. (Fun stat: 73% of the 420+ respondents to my mental health survey say they deal with anxiety or a panic disorder.) I do my best to gauge what the other person needs from it.
Sometimes it’s solidarity or bonding. It might be that they have someone in their life they’re trying to help, or that they’re looking for reassurance. Other times, they’re seeking respite and counsel. I thought I sensed that was the case this time and I started offering up my semi-magic bullet supplement du jour (200 mg of L-Theanine if you’re keeping score at home). My pal started shaking their head.
“Oh, no. Nonononono. I don’t want my anxiety to stop. It’s the thing that pushes me to do what I do and why I get so much of it done.”
Continue reading What doesn’t kill you
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.”
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.
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