We’ve never been more aware for the need to look after our mental health – thankfully there are more everyday ways to do it than meditation retreats and gong baths. For instance, sharing a meal: recent research from flatsharing site, SpareRoom, found that only 17% of us regularly eat together but 87% of people who do find that it has a positive effect on their mood.
Andrew Clarke is a chef with his own experience of mental ill health, who has come up with some simple sharing recipes that will soon reduce feelings of isolation and beef up your resilience….
RSNG Why is sharing food so important for mental health?
ANDREW CLARKE, CHEF ‘It is so often said food brings people together and I firmly believe this. Sitting together enjoying a meal connects people, encourages conversation, debate and stimulation. The dinner table, wherever it may be, should be seen as a great place to combat loneliness.’
RSNG What have you learned about the link between loneliness and mental health in your work as co-founder of the Pilot Light campaign?
AC ‘Humans are social beings. We’ve evolved this way to find comfort, stimulation and security amongst others. We feel valued, giving us a sense of purpose and self-esteem.’
‘This has amazing health benefits – mental and physical. Without social connections, we feel isolated and that’s often when our minds turn against us.’
RSNG What’s your favourite sharing meal?
AC ‘Not sure I have a favourite, as I believe all food should be shared. My restaurant is based around the concept of sharing food. We encourage lively tables of diners making noise, having fun and enjoying a feast. I’ve had so many great meals like this in other countries, but sadly the idea is still a little alien in the UK.’
‘I suffered depression but through a lot of hard work and some lifestyle changes, I got through the dark times’
RSNG Have you ever been affected by mental illness and can you tell us about it?
AC ‘Yes. I’ve been quite vocal about my experiences and it led to me starting Pilot Light. I suffered with depression for a short period, but through a lot of hard work and some lifestyle changes, I got through the dark times. However, I quickly recognised how lucky I was and wanted to help those less fortunate than myself, who suffer with mental health issues on a daily basis.’
RSNG Some people find hosting a dinner party too stressful – what tips do you have to turn a stressful experience of preparing and cooking food into a life-affirming one?
AC ‘Don’t over think it and keep it simple! Just one course served in the pan you cooked it in, so guests can help themselves, can be a real treat for others (I’m always very grateful if someone offers to cook for me).’
‘The moment it becomes stressful, it becomes counterproductive. Find a simple recipe you can do confidently (some of the ones I put together with SpareRoom could work well – check them out below) then when you get more experience, you can start adding bells and whistles. Better still, cook with your friends and share the experience.’
‘A big bowl of chunky soup of roasted pumpkin, sweetcorn, wild mushrooms, chilis, the last of the summer’s tomatoes, barley and beans’
RSNG What’s your favourite healthy autumn comfort food recipe?
AC ‘Because of the bountiful harvest of vegetables available in autumn, I would say a big satisfying bowl of chunky soup of roasted pumpkin, sweetcorn, wild mushrooms, chilis, the last of the summer’s tomatoes, barley and beans, finished with a dollop of crème fraiche and plenty of fresh dill, parsley and dried Turkish pepper.’
‘I eat lots of soups throughout the year anyway, but this is a great way to get lots of nutrients and vitamins as the nights get colder and longer.’
RSNG Do you think some people are unaware of their own loneliness, given that we are often surrounded by people, but can still be isolated?
AC ‘Absolutely. SpareRoom is kicking off a really important conversation on this, you can live in one of the most densely populated cities, with housemates, and still feel isolated. Many big cities have lost their old communities and life can feel quite transient.’
‘I think it’s important to find community places and events that don’t revolve around work or your usual routine.’
RSNG What about men and mental health? Do you think that we can benefit even more from sharing food, given that we often don’t just sit down and chat to each other, men to men?
AC ‘I think the dinner table is a great healer and men could benefit more from sitting around a table eating food than at a pub drinking beer.’
‘My friends and I (@DangerousDinnerGang) meet for dinner once a month and check in on each other, to see how we’re all doing. We go to different low-key restaurants and explore other national cuisines, but there’s always a strong narrative around mental health. It’s very liberating.’
RSNG What food culture has the most sharing recipes?
AC ‘Difficult to say. I think it’s much easier to say who has the least. Countries that still value food, sharing and time together over a fast-paced western world, will have the most and I really hope they stay that way.’
‘The modern world could learn a lot from other cultures instead of believing we’re the most advanced.’
WHAT NEXT? Cook up your own sharing meals with these specially-designed recipes from ‘Loneliness Chef’ Andrew Clarke.
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Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.