When we are young, we are invincible. Very little thought is given to the effort required to prevent aches, pains, and serious health problems in the future. Cooks tend to work hard and play hard – their energy level is tapped and expended daily with the assumption that it will simply return again tomorrow. An hourly wage without healthcare –this is no problem when you are 21, single, and full of the energy and adrenaline that courses through your body. Sure, cooks sustain cuts, bruises, and burns – but that’s just the price of admission that will be covered by workman’s comp. Stitch me up, slap on some burn cream, give me a tetanus shot, and I am good as gold.
“I’m working 70 hours this week – bring on the overtime!” Sounds great when you are young. No time for family, missing another important event, no time for that night out with your friends – “Oh well, that’s the job – there will always be another opportunity.” When others point to this not being normal we just shrug our shoulders and say – “You just don’t understand the work that I do.”
The devil that plagues cooks is hidden for quite some time, but the effects of his (her) presence are cumulative and progressively they get worse. We find ourselves, at the ripe old age of 35 or maybe 40 saying – “well, this is a young person’s game – it is really no place for someone getting on in age.” When we see professional cooks or even chefs as they edge into their late forties and early fifties, we scratch our heads in wonder – “I don’t know how he or she does it.”
As you move from your invincible 20’s to your 30’s and beyond – things begin to change. We lose a few steps, our body doesn’t move quite as fast. We wake up with aching backs from bending and standing all day. Those headaches are worse and more frequent, your hands cramp up frequently, and your feet – let’s not even go there. The cuts aren’t as frequent, nor are the burns (at least we don’t feel them as much), but your hands look like 40 year old grape vines – certainly not worthy of a photo shoot for hands magazine. You’re 35 and your face still breaks out because of all the oil in the air, and that hair is starting to thin out on top. Your trim 6-pack abdomen is moving in a different direction, teeth are in need of dental attention, and you just feel tired all the time. What happened?
The silent devil is now front-and-center in your life and he insists on finding new ways every day to make his presence known. Your family and friends have given up on you and no longer even bother expecting you to attend those events or show up for dinner, or a drink to celebrate your bond with them. You really want to go to the chiropractor, but without adequate healthcare – that would mean $50 out of pocket – so just grin and bear the pain. You know that you just don’t feel right and can’t seem to figure out why – a trip to a doctor for that complete physical would make sense, but again, the cost. You tried dating many times, but always wound up disappointing the other person with schedule conflicts or simply being too tired to join in.
So, here you are – an accomplished cook or chef for sure, but at what cost? How did you allow this to happen and what is the solution now? Maybe it’s time to find another line of work – after all – this is a young persons game.
The restaurant industry is constantly losing its best, most accomplished people and it is everyone’s fault. It is the fault of the business for not recognizing what employees need, and it is the fault of the individual for not defining priorities that will impact his or her life for decades. More often than not, the best kitchen people find themselves on the hunt for a change that suddenly becomes more important than their passion for food.
So, what are the solutions?
ADDRESS THE DEVIL AND PLAN AHEAD:
We all need to engage in preventative health care and it should begin early in life. Yearly physicals and preventative measures that protect those bones, muscles, and internal organs are a first step. This means that when you are seeking employment in the food business – seek out those companies that provide or assist you in identifying affordable healthcare. Don’t push this aside as something that is not necessary when you are young. This is just like a savings account that will pay you back with interest, later in life.
What many people outside the business don’t realize is that cooks typically have terrible diets. “You work in a restaurant – you must eat like a king.” Nope – a plate of cold spaghetti eaten while standing up, hanging over a garbage can to catch the scraps – or maybe red beans and rice, or a plate of scrambled eggs – wolf down in 5 minutes and back to work – this is meal time for many cooks. We drink loads of coffee, never enough water, too much soda and energy drinks, grab a handful of cookies from the bakery and stand ready for the onslaught of orders that will tick off the POS printer in a few minutes. We kick back a few beers with the team after work, hit the bed way too late, and wake up to a few cups of coffee and maybe a stale donut on the way back to work. No wonder our bodies start to push back.
Cooks and chefs need to find the time to practice what they know is right: a balanced diet, less fried foods, fewer empty calories, more vegetables and fruit, and portions that are reasonable. Cooks and chefs need to sit down, relax a bit and allow your body to adequately digest this food and convert it into the fuel that keeps the body working at peak performance. Even if the meal is only 15 minutes – we need to dedicate the time to eat well.
- CLEARING YOUR HEAD:
Unless you have done it – you just don’t know. The mind of a cook or chef is filled with loads of deadlines, second-guessing, and abnormal stressors that seem to always be present. We have a tough time shutting it off and moving on. Without an opportunity to clear your head, these stressors get more and more intense and complicated and simply wear you down. We all have different ways of clearing our heads, but whatever works for you – make sure that the time is made available. A walk, swim, bike ride, listening to music, yoga, reading, whatever – make the time available otherwise you are headed into some dangerous territory.
I found out just how beneficial this is – way too late in life, but now that I have, my exercise routine is my solace, my happy place, and the part of my checklist that allows everything else to happen. When I can’t check off my daily exercise, then my day loses direction and I feel it deeply.
Cooks and chefs need to make the time for that 20-30 minutes of daily exercise – no mater what it is: walking, running, racket ball, tennis, shooting hoops, swimming, weight lifting – it all helps immensely. Do it – take care of yourself!
- CREATE TIME FOR BALANCE:
Those missed family events, lost opportunities to connect with friends, or discarded opportunities to start working on a relationship, will catch up with you at some point, and then it will be much more difficult to correct your inaction.
The job is important and restaurant demands are always in a state of flux, but your quality of life, in the long run, is far more important. The opportunities have never been better for cooks and chefs to find the restaurant or company willing to do the right thing with employees and pay attention to these physical, mental and emotional needs. Seek those employers out – it is important. When an employer helps you to find the opportunity to serve the operation and your wellbeing, then he or she is a real keeper.
- ADDRESS A SENSE OF PURPOSE:
Finally, maybe even more than ever before, those who are considering a career in food are also seeking to find a place where they can feel whole; where what they do seems to really matter and where they can feel good about making a difference. Whatever your stakes in the ground might be – try to find and employer that aligns with this. If you wake up in the morning, look in a mirror and say: “What am I doing this for”, then it is time to think about new directions. We all need a purpose if we are to keep that devil at bay.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC