Published on January 24th, 2017 | from CAMH
Thought for Food
By Andrew Brobyn, CAMH Client
It’s a rare and magical thing to look forward to lunch in a hospital, but that’s exactly the situation I’ve found myself in over the last few weeks. Bouillabaisse, chakchouka, bulgogi, and picadillo—these seem out of place on the lunch cart, but they certainly are a welcome sight (and smell) during a time in my life where food prep feels like a task worthy of Sisyphus. And, judging by the expressions of my classmates every Wednesday (inevitably all smiles), I’d say my experience isn’t unique.
The University in the Community/CAMH “Thought for Food” program brings together around ten people a week from different outpatient groups and gives us the opportunity to learn from a new professional chef each class; we learn about the culture surrounding the food we will prepare, we learn about the ingredients (and where the best spots to find them are in the city), and we learn the recipes—each of us playing some small part in bringing together a delicious dish that we share in, almost like a family. In fact, many of us regulars have become friends, so that Wednesdays serve as a focal point of the week: a time to reconnect, talk, and teach from each of our experiences with sickness and health—and, of course, cooking tips.
I’ve always found that, along with the right doctor and medications, one of the best therapy tools is talking to other sick people. Sick people don’t judge what they understand firsthand, and they usually have some salient advice on how to navigate the complex network of mental health support systems that can benefit us. I’ve given and received advice, been offered help, and engaged in discussions in the kitchen that a one-on-one appointment with a doctor simply can’t provide, but which have been just as vital to my continued health as any medication. Between 1 and 3pm on Wednesdays, I am part of a group of peers—a feeling I just can’t find as a bipolar patient in the general public—and I don’t feel a compulsion to apologize for my issues as a preamble to conversation, they’re simply accepted as part of who I am, which is a profoundly liberating situation.
The concept of ‘food as medicine’ is hardly a new idea, but it is one that we, as North Americans, seem to have largely forgotten. We frequent fast-food chains, glory in packaged snacks, and stock our larders with frozen, microwaveable meals—as a result, we miss out on the benefits of proper nutrition, and the social aspects of cooking and eating as a group. I’ve always known, on some intellectual level, that what we eat affects how we feel, but after taking my “Thought for Food” lessons (and recipes) home with me, and consciously preparing and eating healthy meals for the last month or so, I know that from experience. I feel good, for the first time in quite a while… I don’t look too bad these days, either.