“Youer than You:” mental health and well-being in the restaurant industry

“Youer than You:” mental health and well-being in the restaurant industry

The phrase is from Dr. Seuss’s Happy Birthday to You! (1959) which captures an idea and delivers it in true Seussian style:

“Today you are you! That is truer than true!
There is no one alive who is youer than you!”

It’s a line that resonates with Waterloo Region-based chef Jon Rennie so much so that he’s spending a good deal of his spare time organizing a fundraiser food event — Youer Than You — to support awareness around mental health issues in the food and beverage industry, as well as the larger community where the issues — and the stigmas — lurk.

Milton-born, Rennie has lived in the region most of his life and he’s done charity events before in his capacity as a local cook and activist. He’s currently honing his butchery skills in a gig with The Bauer Butcher in Vincenzo’s.

“The driving force for me over the last 18 months has been my mental health and that of my family and my friends,” Rennie says. “It’s been an issue for me, and I’ve gone to counselling over the last year and a half to develop coping strategies for long-standing anxiety and depression.”

Rennie talks openly about his own mental health (Photo/Scott Wicken).

Rennie, 37, wants the event to open a dialogue and give people a chance to connect and express themselves. Boosting awareness of the issue in the local industry is paramount as is raising some money to support the local institutions dedicated to mental health care.

Running 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on May 10 at THEMUSEUM, Youer than You is a food event event that serves up 10 restaurant stations paired up with beverages, some alcoholic and some not. Tickets are $125 per person including music and magic. Yes — magic.

There is also a $50 “non-attendance” payment for those who don’t want to or cannot attend but still want to contribute.

Participating food outlets:

Nudl Artisan Pasta
Ignite Restaurant Group
Fat Sparrow
Crumby Cookie Dough Co
T and J Seafoods
Fourall Ice Cream
Swine and Vine
Proof
Little Mushroom Catering
Grand Trunk Saloon

Partnered with proteins from:

Oakridge Acres
Henry’s Tempeh
Blackview Farms
Vibrant Farms
The Bauer Butcher
FQ Butchershop
Charles Quality Meats
Weide Lea Farms


Proceeds from ticket sales, after expenses are covered, go to Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo-Wellington (CMHA WW) along with silent auction proceeds. That supports PASSkits (Panic, Anxiety & Stress Support), which are first aid kits for mental health, “safeTALK,” “Let’s Talk and “Wellness, Acceptance, Youth Voices, Empowerment (WAYVE.ca), a mental health promotion program for youth by youth in the Waterloo Region.

The event runs during Mental Health Week, May 6-12.

“We’re encouraging conversation and that is a huge step that comes away from just crisis management,” says Rennie.

Silent auction proceeds go to purchasing PASSkits (Image/PASSkit).

“I want this to inspire people to be more open. That’s started. I’ve had conversations with people because they know I’m involved with this event and I’ve been open with my own story. They feel safe talking about it,” says Rennie.

He adds that he’s lent his support to friends in the restaurant business when they have needed it. “A lot of it has to do with the industry. I’ve been looking at the stresses and anxieties that are prevalent in the industry. It gets pushed under the carpet and we’re told to suck it up and deal with it.”

Rennie: “I want to inspire people to be more open” (Photo/Jon Rennie).

For Rennie, the out-of-sight out-of-mind inertia signifies that the industry as a whole isn’t fully recognizing and dealing with the issue as well as it should. At the same time, he says mental health issues are wide-ranging and in every industry and career.

“For me, I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression since I was 16 years-old and working through them. I want to address the stigma in the restaurant industry that it is ‘admitting weakness.’ Many of us are dealing with mental health issues, so let’s talk about it and support each other,” says Rennie.

Ren Navarro has experience in the industry and is a Kitchener-based beer consultant to restaurants. She’s also a public speaker and operates beer-diversity.com. She supports events like Youer Than You because they help remove the stigma around mental health.

“This industry is hard. You have to be on 24-7. I have generalized anxiety disorder, but people don’t believe me if I tell them that. They say I seem so outgoing, and whatever. But that’s a mask. It takes a lot out of me ‘to be on,'” Navarro says.

She adds that whether or not you’re in the food and beverage industry and are in more perhaps conventional careers, this is an event for everyone.

It’s a point that Rennie stresses: the event, though set against the backdrop of restaurants and the food and beverage industry, is not exclusive to it. Everyone should be aware of and take care of their mental health. “In the same way we take care of our physical health,” says Rennie.

Youer Than You takes place May 10 (Image/Youer Than You).


He adds that it’s difficult if not impossible to quantify the numbers in the industry that suffer from mental illness. “Certainly, the stress of the job can cause anxiety. That doesn’t mean it’s a disorder, but 100 percent of people in this industry — and other industries too — are either dealing with mental health issues,” he says. “Or not dealing with them.”

Every work place has stress and healthy and unhealthy work-place practices. “I think in the restaurant industry there’s a lack of support. We often don’t have benefits. It’s a lower income in general, and counselling is not cheap. People too often say, ‘That’s just how it is’ and ‘I had to deal with it so now you have to deal with it,'” according to Rennie.

He doesn’t buy that response: “That’s a terrible reason to keep doing something that’s destructive.”

Rennie adds that people in the hospitality industry were the first to jump on board with his efforts and quick to say that they wanted to help. “That’s indicative of how widespread mental health issues are within the industry,” he says.

“Like physical health, rather than looking at it as an emergency, look at it as ongoing care. Conversations and being open are very important. We want to inspire more people to be more open. Let’s talk about it, whether it’s the restaurant industry or the wider community.”








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