The high-pressure kitchen is a badge of honor, status and visibility. The more intense a kitchen is, it seems the more respect a chef gets. Ironically, it seems the more people chefs feed, the more likely they are to be in poor health. Admittedly, we base this statement on anecdotal evidence, gathered through 30 years of being chefs ourselves. Unfortunately, a culture of substance abuse has become the norm in most kitchens, often a status symbol or a way of fitting in. For women in kitchens, the stress is amplified by sexism.
Let food be thy medicine
“Where do we go from here?” As chefs, we ask how is it that the thing that is meant to nourish our health and wellbeing has become the very thing that is making us sick? And, what can we do to restore our health through what we know best — food? There is a movement both in and outside of restaurants bringing us back to the words of Hippocrates in 431 B.C.: “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
Chefs and food professionals recognize the need for balance but often cannot find it in their work space. As a culture, and an industry, it is critical that we remember the purpose of what we do — feed people. As women chefs, we can and do want to bring the power of nourishing food into our own restaurants and classrooms, where our ultimate goal is to feed people’s bodies as well as their souls.
Building better environments
Employers and work communities are beginning to take note, creating environments that promote the health and wellbeing of employees. This includes supporting physical and mental health care, gym memberships and nutrition education. That’s feeding staff and customers in a way that’s good for everyone. We’ve got powerful medicine at our fingertips to help solve many of the problems in our kitchens and in the lives of our co-workers and customers. Let’s use it.
Jenny Breen and Kim Bartmann, Participants, Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, [email protected]