Guest Editor Jeremy Fall sat down with actress Emily Hampshire and discussed mental health and comfort food.
Emily Hampshire: I do think creative thinking is all tied into mental health.
Jeremy Fall: Well... I think it’s an interesting thing. Obviously, the topic of mental health is something I think about all the time. I actually was just thinking about this recently. If I didn’t have mental health issues, I don’t think I would have been successful in any way. Because I was thinking about creativity, and a lot of my creativity stems from my anxiety. For example, when I’m driving, pre-medication, through a green light, I start anticipating, what if the light turns yellow and I start accelerating and someone cuts me off? That is creative thinking, that is storytelling, that is creating a world, and that’s what we do. So that’s why I was scared to go on medication. Because I was like, shit, what if I end up being like a zombie. And, what I learned was that you end up feeling more like yourself.
EH: And, that is a big fear, I think, with creative people. But I’m curious to know when you first even felt mental health problems.
JF: Felt them and then knew what they were, were different. Felt them, I would say, if I heard stories from my childhood, it was probably as early as one and remembering them, was probably as early as three. Because I always felt like an outsider in school. I didn’t know what it was. I maybe didn’t understand what it was until like a few years ago. I always felt like an outsider.
EH: In what way?
JF: Kids would be running up the slide, going up the stairs, and I would be like “one stair, one stair, one stair…” and I knew I was different. I was raised by just my mother, I was called gay growing up, and all those things. I was very confused because I was being called gay, I had this weird feeling that I don’t fit in, like I was trying to fit in and I just couldn’t. I didn’t know why. I didn’t have a sleepover at a single friend’s house my entire childhood. Not one. Kids were having sleepovers, I couldn’t. I had no idea what it was. It was anxiety. It led to me being down all the time. I didn’t know what depression was. You know, growing up, it was a time, as men, you weren’t allowed to be anything but normal. So, I didn’t know what it was until I learned about mental health issues. And I was like... Wait...This is what that was? And it weirdly helped me and made me special or different. That didn’t come until the last couple of years and I had to actually face that. Up until a year and a half ago, it was physical. Where when I was driving, I would swerve, and my hands would work independently from me, and I remember thinking “pullover, how do I pull over?” And my hands would go swerving. I had this conversation the other day, and you would think I was on drugs. But the problem was that I wasn’t. And that’s such an interesting perspective.
EH: When we were kids, people weren’t talking about it. But, I think, now it is better that kids even know the word mental health. Like, the only mental health thing I remember as a kid was putting kids on Ritalin.
JF: The thing is, mental health growing up, you went to a mental hospital. Like “Oooh they’re mental, they’re crazy.”
EH: I do think people that I know who get to that point of success (as you) at a young age, unless they’re born into some kind of situation, you have to have a bit of something too much. When you say that your anxiety helped you early on in your career, I can totally see how my obsessive whatever had me non-stop reading every single acting book, highlighting entire books, which, that ultimately means the whole book is highlighted, so it doesn’t really help you. But, that kind of obsession definitely made it so I kept going when a lot of the people I was on par with, acting wise then, are no longer acting. It’s not because I was better, it was because I was crazy.
JF: Was crazy?
EH: It’s very interesting that you just made me aware of, when you said you weren’t on drugs, but, you should have been on medication, I can look back to when I wasn’t on medication, and the things, the thinking and behavior that I did, was crazy and I didn’t know it. I couldn’t make eye contact with people, I couldn’t order from a menu, I developed a stutter. But, I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t know and I think it’s self-perpetuating too, the more your anxious and then you have to get through the world like that, you have to learn ways to cope that are not necessarily good ways.
But when did the food come into your life, other than your mom feeding you?
JF: Growing up, I always loved food. I think it was in my DNA, I remember stories of my mom taking me to restaurants and I would want to try salmon, things that normal kids wouldn’t want to try. My mom had a cafe growing up, that was in my teens, that we lived on top of. Our kitchen was the restaurant’s kitchen. I think that was somewhat in my DNA, but I never thought of making a career out of it. In my mind, it was like “oh you have to be an attorney or doctor, or whatever.” But one day, I was like, if I had a billion dollars what would I do? It would be food. Dining out, hosting friends for dinner parties, stuff like that. So I was like, huh, is there a way that I can just do that. I was 16 at the time, so I started to start this company. I didn’t have resources or money, but I thought of this idea for nightclubs on Mondays that were closed. And I was like, “I’m 16 in LA, in the summer there’s nothing to do for people 12-17, why don’t we do club night, no booze, like a really cool school dance. I did that, and it didn’t do it as well as expected. Other people started doing it and they did it well. But, It got me to put into a big nightclub. It got me a job, an internship there because I was starting college. I worked there, I could have conversations with adults, I was pretty emotionally mature, and then I grew in the hospitality industry that way. You always hear “restaurants don’t make money, restaurants are the hardest business”. I was really at the right place at the right time because when I started food, it was like right before the term celebrity chef was known. And still, to this day I would never call myself a chef, but it opened the doors where it was like okay I’m young, the demographic that is consuming food is young, and those people need some sort of leader, not to sound like a cult. But who was the Michael Jordan of food? So I was like, what do I love about food? The fact that it’s a conduit to the conversation, memories are surrounding it, comfort food, why we’re here. So why don’t I do comfort food concepts like breakfast for dinner, which was my first restaurant, which people love? Make it elevated, make it new. Instead of just doing eggs and bacon, candy the bacon, make cool breakfast sandwiches, new innovated things. No matter how old you are, nostalgia will always be ingrained. Through the comfort food conversation, I was able to talk to people and build my career.
EH: I started cooking, and I started cooking with comfort food. The first video I did was scrambled eggs that you actually taught me about. Well, it was the first time I made scrambled eggs, and the first time I used my stove... The slow stir, that’s your move, that I’ve improved. But all seriousness, when did food, comfort food especially, and mental health come together for you?
JF: I think it was always there. The one thing that I’ve learned was that there’s a dangerous aspect to this, being food addiction. I wondered sometimes if I have that over the years, I don’t think I do, but there’s this interesting thing where if you look back, it’s called comfort food for a reason. What I’ve noticed about my passion for food, was never about the food itself. I love food itself, but am I going to be the guy that reads about seven types of heirloom tomatoes? No. I’m never going to be that person, but, I’ll be the person that at the dinner table brings that up in the sense that I want to talk. Food is that conduit and culture. How many times do you say, “Oh I had this great dinner with my friends,” it’s always the people that you’re with the funny stories that come out of it? The food is always there and you can say the food was amazing, but it’s always secondary to the people that you are with. If food is the main thing, you’re at the wrong dinner, and that’s how I look at it.