Reprinted from the Nourishing and Moving Our Bodies issue of Visions Journal, 2023, 19 (1), pp. 8-9
Bruno Feldeisen has achieved tremendous success in his career as a chef. He has also lived with debilitating anxiety that has, at times, interfered with his professional and personal life. During the past five years, Bruno has collaborated with Anxiety Canada to destigmatize anxiety and anxiety disorders.
He has done so as a Champion for Anxiety Canada by appearing on the #OurAnxietyStories podcast and regularly sharing his lived experience with anxiety and how he overcame posttraumatic stress disorder. The following is a conversation between Anxiety Canada’s CEO, Judith Law (JL), and Bruno (BF) about his perspectives on the connection between food and mental health.
JL: You’re a judge on the Great Canadian Baking show. How and when did cooking become important to you?
BF: When I was young my dream was to be a pilot and fly all over the world. But I grew up in a foster care system. I didn’t know my father, and my mother died when I was a young person. I struggled. My home life was difficult and I didn’t have much guidance or support. When I got kicked out of high school, I had no choice but to look for a job. I was lucky to find an apprenticeship in a chocolate shop. I didn’t know it then, but working as a member of a team helped me with feeling like part of a family, which is something I was missing.
Cooking became important to me because it provided structure and gave me my bearings. Being in the kitchen, your senses are activated because there are so many smells and sounds. And food is for celebrations, such as birthdays and retirements. Cooking feels important because you create happiness and joy for people who buy the products you create. That feels good.
JL: You are an advocate for mental health. Can you share how food and cooking contribute to good mental health?
BF: I have taught basic cooking skills to young adults in an alcohol and drug program. I told them that if you can make a tasty soup and salad, you can find a job. There are many places looking for cooks. Cooking classes help people to focus, meet other people and have a good time.
Building social skills and connections is part of cooking. For example, when you make that tasty soup, you can reach out to your neighbours, friends or family to share it. You develop community connection this way, which helps to reduce loneliness and create new social networks for support.
When I worked in kitchens, I felt that we were all part of one family. I looked up to the Chef, and there was a strong sense of comradery with those I worked with because we had to work as a team, preparing, presenting and delivering food. I always felt like we would take care of each other because we worked closely together.
JL: As you know, higher inflation and increased food prices are eating into household budgets. Do you have suggestions about meal planning on a budget?
BF: Food becomes very important in the way you select, prepare and consume it. It helps you understand home economics because food is expensive, so it helps you to be selective about where you buy it and how frequently you shop. We also end up creating a lot of waste, which goes into landfills because of extra packaging when we choose to order in rather than cooking for ourselves.
I’ve noticed that the quality of produce tends to be worse than it was years ago, and produce goes bad very quickly. So I buy groceries every two to three days. I like to have stocked cupboards and essentials in my freezer. I do this by buying what is on sale when I see it. I suggest stocking your cupboards with chicken or vegetable stock, canned soup, cereals, pasta or grains, and having frozen veggies and meat in your freezer. Avoid buying food that is out of season, like berries, because they are expensive.
I do not buy organic because it is expensive and unnecessary. If you buy local and in season, and you cook at home, you can save money. I also advise against buying designer olives oils and different-coloured salts. Most kitchens I know use basic kosher salt.
Leftover food can be made into something else. For example, an entire cooked chicken can be useful. You can shred the meat and add it to a salad or use it in a sandwich. You can save the bones and boil it up with water, garlic and onion, which creates a delicious broth you can freeze.
I also add savories, like tomato, into muffin mixes. Some muffin mixes are affordable if you don’t have time to buy all the ingredients to make it from scratch. These days, bread is expensive, so you want to use it up even when it’s dry. I suggest making it into bread pudding or French toast.
When you lose your job, you can land up on the street very quickly. I have also volunteered at the food bank. I want to share that they often have an amazing variety of foods to give away. We should not feel ashamed to go to the food bank.
JL: What role do you think food plays in social connections?
BF: The shape of a table—round, square or rectangle—is designed to bring people together. What you put in the middle is to be shared.
I think we are all afraid to connect with people. For me, the kitchen was the centre of my home in my earlier life. The problem today is that families get distracted by the big-screen TV in the living room, and we’re fragmented when we’re looking at our own small screens (telephones) instead of at each other. I wish there were more places where people could sit together at long tables. The table brings people back together.
Tune in to #OurAnxietyStories, Anxiety Canada’s podcast, to hear an episode in which Bruno talks about his personal experience with anxiety: www.anxietycanada.com/podcast/bruno-feldeisen
About the authors
Great Canadian Baking Show judge Bruno Feldeisen was named one of the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America by Chocolatier Magazine two years in a row and has been nominated twice for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. He is also an Anxiety Canada Champion
Judith Law is the CEO of Anxiety Canada. A management expert with decades of experience in public health programming, she is passionate about mental health