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Chefs have a particular role to play in shaping the food debate globally by advocating for a set of 8 thematic areas agreed by chefs to be crucial for positive change. This event was conceived prior to the Covid-19 crisis with the topic of Livelihoods and Wellbeing, SDG 3, on the agenda, identified as part of the matrix enabling chefs to have an effective voice in their respective parts of the world. With the sudden pandemic crisis affecting everyone’s livelihood, it became more topical than had been envisaged.
The debate around Livelihoods and wellbeing is crucial and complex with chefs on the front line, along with supermarkets, logistics companies and farmers working to ensure the public has good food to eat. The timely debate looked at how chefs internationally have adapted their food service to the unique challenges of their region. The complex topic was broken down over a 2 day on line event with the first day looking specifically at how chefs can create a positive work environment.
The reality during the pandemic is that many chefs are not able to work in their restaurant kitchen and their livelihoods have been directly impacted. We began the day with a panel of experts looking at how chefs can take care of themselves and their teams, especially during this stressful lock down period.
Medical Herbalist, Alex Laird, Forager and Sensory Botanist, Robin Harford, Chef and Brand Consultant, Anjli Vyas and former Chef Craig Strippel joined us on a panel to give their expertise. Our in-house team Vicky Chown, Holistic Urban Gardener and, Jen Baker, gave workshops on tea-tasting and meditation.
The panel agreed that what we feed ourselves impacts our health on multiple levels. Until quite recently, the widespread view was that our diets don’t have much impact on the way we feel but science has started to prove that the mind and body are a highly complex integrated system.
We all know that a poor diet negatively impacts our physical health but there is now extensive observational evidence across countries and age groups supporting the contention that diet quality is a possible risk or protective factor in mental health disorders such as depression.
In 2018, the Smiles Trial – a small but hugely significant trial – recruited people with major clinical depressive disorder and randomly assigned them to either a group receiving social support or dietary support from a clinical dietician. For three months, the social support group received a befriending technique often used by psychiatrists to support depression and the dietary support group were given gradual changes to make to their diets. The dietary changes involved substituting swapping refined carbohydrates for whole grains; eating more vegetables and legumes; adding nuts, fish and olive oil to the diet as well as reducing junk and processed foods such as sweets, cakes, chocolate and fried foods.
The results of the trial were astounding. More than 30% of the people in the dietary group achieved full remission compared to 8% in the social support group. The researchers found that the more positive changes were made to diet, the more patient symptoms improved and a cost analysis of the diets pre and post changes showed that the healthier diet was in fact cheaper. Often, the risk factors for mental health disorders are not modifiable such as family history, early life trauma or poverty but the fact that diet and physical activity are both such modifiable risk factors highlights the fact that lifestyle medicine should be the starting point for many mental health conditions.
Mindfulness can be a useful tool to help reduce anxiety and help bring our attention back to the things that nurture us. Vicky Chown, Omved’s Holisitc Urban Gardener, took the chefs through an enlivening tea meditation helping us experience how herbs affect the body and the mind. Chamomile, for example, is a mucilaginous herb and this can be felt in the mouth as an ever so slightly silky or slimy feel, making it soothing for the digestive tract. The importance of paying attention to the body was further articulated by Robin Harford, one of the panel members. He told the story of how foraging and sensory botany helped to bring him back from rock-bottom.
‘You really get to know a plant through the senses – the smell, the texture, what the flavours are doing. For me, it is bringing a presence of mind and using that approach when you are trying to pair a plant with another – its a mindful practice – just like washing the dishes can be a mindful practice… Walking out in nature and really paying attention to the soundscape around – it embraces you as you walk through it. When I go out, I just sink down into feeling my body, trying to hear the sounds and smell the scents in the air. When I pick a plant, my immediate thing to do is smell it. That is how I identify it and I really like to sense how my body feels as the smell goes down into it. This encourages a sense of relaxation and de-stress response in the body. Even if I am in a hyper ‘on’ state, by doing this, I start to relax, slow down, come back to the present. Get out of your head and come to your senses – that’s my saying, it’s very simple.’
A simple technique to help refocus our attention and take ourselves out of a stressful state is conscious breathing. Kundalini Yoga Teacher Sivaroshan Sahathevan describes the breath as an ‘untapped treasure’: when you slow down the breath rate, the mind follows suit. The Box Breathing technique is a simple technique and the chefs quickly felt the benefits of practicing this. Please see the separate note on this technique.
At times, the hospitality industry can be very challenging for mental health and our final two panel members elaborated on this. Former chef, Craig Strippel, spoke about how stress drove him to addiction and how reconnecting to nature helped him recover.
Anjli Vyas echoed the benefit of paying positive attention to mental health and togetherness. She commented that this mindfulness needs to be embraced from the top. Wellbeing should become part of the culture in the kitchen and not an afterthought.
The Chefs Manifesto 8 Thematic Areas:
Download OmVed Gardens’ Box Breathing Guide below:
Find out more about the information in this Article:
Lai JS, Hiles S, Bisquera A, Hure AJ, McEvoy M, Attia J. A systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in community-dwelling adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;99(1):181–97. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.069880.
O’Neil A, Quirk SE, Housden S, Brennan SL, Williams LJ, Pasco JA, et al. Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: a systematic review. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(10):e31–42. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302110.
Jacka FN, Mykletun A, Berk M. Moving towards a population health approach to the primary prevention of common mental disorders. BMC Med. 2012;10:149. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-149.
Sarris J, Logan AC, Akbaraly TS, Amminger GP, Balanzá-Martínez V, Freeman MP, et al. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015;2:271–4.
Jacka F, Pasco J, Mykletun A, Williams L, Hodge A, O’Reilly S, et al. Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women. Am J Psychiatry. 2010;167(3):305–