By Lorraine Moss
8 in 10 chefs have experienced poor mental health during their career. (Nestle Professional of UK)
Today we celebrate the life and legacy of a culinary TITAN. You’d be challenged to find someone who had done more for the culinary industry in terms of cultural understanding and immersive travel. But as we toast Anthony Bourdain on his birthday, we’re also reminded that we’ve been robbed.
Bourdain was open about his struggles with depression and addiction. He once said,
“Admittedly, it’s a life that grinds you down. Most of us who live and operate in the culinary world are in some fundamental way dysfunctional.”
Here are some statistics from a recent study by Nestle Professional of UK:
- 50% of kitchen workers say pro kitchens aren’t doing enough to support mental wellbeing.
- 73% call in sick due to stress
- Top factors contributing to stress are staff shortages (58%), lack of time (43%) and limited budgets (42%).
Donna Wilburn, Las Vegas based Psychotherapist/Marriage & Family Therapist, is also concerned about the culinary community’s work-life balance.
“I just worry about the mental effects, the physical effects, the family effects, the relationship effects. You can’t live like that and not have it affect just about every aspect of your life.”
Wilburn is talking about abuse. While a lot of us cooks, dishwashers, and servers think it’s normal and necessary in this profession, it’s NOT. Yes, a certain amount of assertive instruction is paramount to push out 500 covers (reservations) and to deal with fire and deadly tools, but most, if not all of us, have also been victim to a dictatorial restaurant boss.
I don’t know anyone personally in the professional kitchen who hasn’t been harassed for calling out sick (when legitimately ill), told he/she was an “idiot, retard, or moron” for making a mistake, or even being threatened for showing any sign of weakness. This is a real problem.
Like the I got your back movement, Wilburn suggests peer to peer help, checking in with your line, being constructive instead of degrading. It could lead to a stronger, healthier work environment, less stress, better retention, possibly even save lives.
“Rather than encouraging others to deal with it, shut up, don’t say anything, be more abusive, how about we support each other, people in the kitchen support each other? Take a moment. Step aside. Breathe. Talk to me. Share it with me. You know, take care of yourself… It’s okay to acknowledge you’re having a rough time.”
Communicating is key. So let’s take a good look at ourselves. How are we contributing to a toxic work environment? I know I have, and I also know that it’s not too difficult to change that, even in subtle ways. It’s not weak to ask for help or give assistance. It takes a better person to not be a bully. It takes a better chef to lead and act with dignity.
Tony Bourdain was a ROCK STAR CHEF. Good luck to all of us in finding someone who better personifies his grit, his honesty, and his scope of knowledge, yet even he could admit,
“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).