Sunday, August 18, 2019

'Seismic shift' about fragility hits food industry

Female chefs in San Francisco fight restaurant industry taboo, speak out about having breast cancer

Several female chefs have had to fight the macho atmosphere of Michelin-rated San Francisco Bay Area restaurants when they contracted breast cancer.

According to a story by Mary Ladd in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, those chefs had to break a long-standing taboo in the $800 billion industry against talking openly about the disease. 

"Stress, long hours and pressure have historically been constant" in the restaurant world, an environment in which "even taking time off for illness has been a no-no," the story notes.

Pim Techamuanvivit
That, Ladd explains, fuses with "the old macho chef mentality that you shouldn't talk about mental and physical health."

But the story details what may be a "seismic shift" in attitude happening.

It cites as an example Pim Techamuanvivit, a Michelin star-recipient who attended an award story in a wheelchair "because she was recovering from her third breast cancer surgery" — an event she wouldn't miss "even if she was…in pain."

Techamuanvivit found support from Kin Khao employees who changed shifts to be there when she couldn't. She reported, too, that "managers who had already left to help open other restaurants would come back to take over a few nights a week."

The Chronicle piece also quotes pastry chef/cancer patient Carolyn Nugent, who'd worked  in five three-star kitchens, as saying that she doesn't think there specifically "is a stigma of having cancer in the culinary world [but] there is a stigma of having any sort of weakness in the culinary world."

And she elaborates: "You learn to push through the pain. In the kitchen, anything that is not related to the job is a distraction — and when you lose your focus on the job, unpleasant things happen."

Dominique Crenn, the story indicates, posted photos on Instagram with her hair gone as a result of chemotherapy — and several of her co-workers at her three-star Michelan restaurant Atelier Crenn also "posted photos of their own shaved heads as a sign of support."

Much more information about attitudes regarding the disease can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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