Addiction in the Food Industry

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“Being a chef is no picnic. It’s day after day of mind-numbing repetition. It takes a certain type of lunatic to crave that kind of life.” – Anthony Bourdain

The late, great Anthony Bourdain admitted he was an addict – to several substances. He was creative, sensitive and a consummate storyteller. His ground-breaking book “Kitchen Confidential” published in 2000 when I interviewed him has the subtitle “Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.”

He compared working in a restaurant kitchen to “serving on a submarine because of the enforced closeness, pressure and isolation.” These are the perfect conditions for addiction.

In addition, working in restaurant is fast-paced and, at times nerve-wracking, because most diners eat at the same time. Like Anthony, most chefs and cooks are creative people – thus they are sensitive and prone to addiction. They work long hours – and alcohol is at hand. Most chefs and work on holidays – because of that, they are isolated from family and friends. They are judged by diners and often by reviews: You are only as good as your last dish.

The restaurant is still a mainly macho culture – employees will deny they are feeling weak and vulnerable. That is changing. Please watch the following Wall Street Journal video about mental health in the food industry. It is powerful and compelling.

A personal note: Since 2008, I am recovering from a life-threatening cross-addiction to sleeping pills and alcohol. Redemption is possible. It’s doable to vanquish the demons. I have a mission to remove the stigma from mental health issues, especially addiction. Maybe the chefs in the following podcasts shared their feelings with me so honestly and courageously knowing that I had a similar experience. Thank you brave people for bringing addiction out of the closet.