For those who haven’t discovered this true gem of a series yet, FX’s “The Bear” is an original show based on a young, award-winning fine dining chef who returns to his hometown of Chicago to run his family’s sandwich shop after the tragic suicide of his brother. While there are still moments of heightened melodrama and exaggeration, there is consensus among industry professionals that the show is so accurate, some can’t stand to watch. The stress. The sense of urgency. The unrealistic demands for perfection. The verbal assaults. The anxiety. The series showcases the painful reality of what it’s like to work in a kitchen and the high emotional and physical price it costs staffers. “The Bear” brings to light the dark underbelly of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, addiction, eating TV disorders and more, that are inherent in the restaurant business yet are rarely addressed.
Finding Compassion in the Kitchen.
Constant judgment and the belief that your worth is equal only to just how much you can take under pressure causes individuals with mental illness to feel ashamed and stigmatized, and they often suffer in silence. To make matters worse, the lack of health insurance or wellness benefits of any kind often makes it financially impossible to seek help, only intensifying the struggle that much more.
Good News Is On The Horizon
The industry is changing and chefs, restaurant owners, and other industry veterans have started multiple support groups and organizations for restaurant employees that address mental health issues and most importantly, provide free online resources and benefits. Operators can access a wealth of information that will help them create a more positive kitchen environment and provide aid to their employees as well as themselves. Here are just a few:
Chefs with Issues: Started by former CNN food reporter and food writer Kat Kinsman, this organization acts as a support outlet and resource center for restaurant workers suffering from depression or substance abuse. Both a website and a Facebook discussion group, this is a place where people can discuss mental health issues and “talk with someone who gets it”.
Fair Kitchens: Fair Kitchens is described as a movement of chefs supporting chefs to inspire a new, resilient, and sustainable foodservice and hospitality industry. It strives to make the industry a fairer, more inclusive and happier place, calling for change by showing that a healthier culture makes for a healthier business. Operators share success and challenges, plus resources, training, and tools, to help create a positive kitchen culture.
Healthy Hospo: Healthy Hospo is a non-profit organization aimed at improving the health, happiness, and sustainability of workers within the hospitality industry. Founded by Tim Etherington-Judge after personally facing a severe mental health breakdown himself, Healthy Hospo delivers classes and virtual training sessions on topics like sleep, nutrition, exercise, mental health, financial health, and human connection as part of a preventative approach.
Mental health in the restaurant industry is an important topic and great conversations are happening. It’s an ongoing battle, but by taking the initiative and leading with open discussion and honest communication, we can all work to build a better future for ourselves and our employees.