by Anna Bowen
Sonali Menezes is a Hamilton, Ontario-based artist and writer whose mental health zines, including You’re so exotic, So you’re anxious as fuck, and So you’re thinking about suicide, stand for me as an artifact of small-scale community care and informal knowledge-sharing. The zines’ compassionate and irreverent tone comes as a huge relief in the context of institutional models of care, mental health crises, and the hollowness of commoditized self-care.
The global pandemic has increased rates of depression and anxiety, more among women and more still among young people, globally estimated at an increase of 27.6 per cent. From the fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021, for example, incidents of major depression among Canadian adults increased to nearly 25 per cent, with alarmingly higher rates within at-risk communities and communities of colour. Disordered eating has also increased due to isolation, changes in routine, lack of access to supports, loss of work, and stress, among other issues.
The notion of self-care which has gained traction in the last ten years is nearly unrecognizable as a reflection of the type of care this series aims to address—that is, care that includes the mending, upkeep, and tending of body-minds and communities. Instead, it is a notion co-opted by a system of productivity that runs us to burnout and sells us the antidote. As professors Jina B. Kim and Sami Schalk explain, “One of the most prominent uses of the term connects self-care to the optimization of work—one cares for the self in order to increase one’s capacity as a productive worker. In other words, taking time for self-care is acceptable only insofar as it enables the further optimization of one’s time spent at work.”
The pandemic has launched us into an oftentimes isolated and unstable reality, and Menezes’ offering helps folks experiencing depression to nourish their bodies on a very basic level when isolated and cooking for one. Her new zine, Depression Cooking: recipes for when you’re depressed as fuck, published by Publication Studio Guelph, pulls together a community linked through an experience of depression and disordered eating.
by Sonali Menezes
After years of disordered eating, I learned to listen quietly to real markers of hunger and realized, quite startlingly, that I am in fact always hungry. During rolling lockdowns, I took a long pause and temporarily moved back in with my parents and my brother so I wouldn’t be alone in my apartment. Three out of four of us, unemployed and at home, made a meal schedule and dreamed up elaborate dinners and I spent nearly three months just eating. I realized something fundamental: between managing the panic attacks induced from watching the world news in a global pandemic and binging on Netflix, we were really, always, just waiting for our next meal.
Fast-forward one year, into the height of the third wave of COVID-19 in Ontario, and the middle of the third lockdown. COVID is ripping through the Global South and I am watching the horrors in India unfold on the news. Updates about sick family members in India roll in on my family group chat. My great aunt, who I’m named after, is waiting for a ventilator, but she’s older and won’t be prioritized. I’m overwhelmed and heartbroken, but so is everyone. I’m sharing an apartment in north end Hamilton with two white roommates who quickly either change the subject or promptly get up and leave the room when I mention India, or anything happening out in the world.
One afternoon with my heart in my throat, I slowly peel the butternut squash I picked up at the farmer’s market and cube it in silence. I toss the pieces in olive oil, feeling the slipperiness of the oil between my fingers, placing the tray in the oven. I chop up an onion and allow big salty tears to run down my face and dangle off the edge of my chin. Before frying it all up in a pot on the stove, I chop up fresh garlic and ginger, too much ginger. Once the onions are translucent, I add turmeric, garam masala, fenugreek, Kashmiri chili powder, water, and a cup of red lentils. A fork easily pierces the flesh of the squash just when the lentils are soft. Perfect. I add the cubed squash from the oven to the pot and remove it all from the element and blend everything carefully with an immersion blender. I add salt, adjust the spices, and fill a small bowl with three ladles-full. I sit and eat the soup in silence, allowing the warmth to fill up my tummy and reach my cheeks and fingertips. My cat dozes lazily in and out of sleep in the chair beside me, tail swooshing, ears twitching. I am reminded that whenever I am filled with overwhelm, there is always time to eat. Food helps.
I am thinking about my maternal grandmother Mama (Elizabeth or Tootie but never Lizzy) when she lived down the street from my parents’ home with my grandfather. This was before—when she still knew my name and was the best cook I knew. I will always remember her barrelling up Rustywood Ave. towards Avonwick Street in the winter in black winter boots and a purple-red coat: she has a large Becel container full of cooked food in hand, tied up in a Dominion shopping bag. Sometimes it was soup, or bok choy and meatballs; other times it was red kidney beans and potatoes and carrots. Mama always knew how to fill bellies, especially with soup. For her, food was synonymous with love—she loved us, so she fed us.
Now, I am sitting in the kitchen of my rented home with two almost strangers sitting in their bedrooms upstairs. And while Mama is not known for her butternut squash soup, she is feeding me. Even though I am no longer Sonali, I am called “girl,” she still loves me. Mama taught me that if you chop up an onion and fry it with garlic, you can do anything. Teaching me this important foundation of cooking is the way that she continues to feed me every day of my adult life. And no matter how lonely living under the alienation of capitalism becomes in the midst of a global pandemic with a day job that sucks out my life force through the blue screen of a laptop, I can always feed myself. Mama taught me.
Years of on-again-off-again therapy would tell me that when I am feeding myself, I am self-soothing. When I feed myself, I am drawing on Mama’s knowledge and her mother Olga’s knowledge before her. I am nourishing my body for the next day, caring for myself, and working towards my own survival, an active demonstration of love. Care is Mama making her way up Rustywood Avenue in the winter with a hot Becel container of soup.
Depression Cooking is a zine of easy recipes designed to make mealtime a little easier, in the no-nonsense sense of the word, for depressed humans like me. It demonstrates one of the many lessons that I’ve learned during COVID: that we can care for one another without being physically present. So while I wish I could make one big pot of soup for my community, I am offering this zine instead. Depression Cooking is a love letter to my depressed kin.
Depression Cooking: easy recipes for when you’re depressed as fuck.
The zine is offered for free with support from Hamilton Artists Inc. and ArtsEverywhere.ca, and is published by Publication Studio Guelph. It is available from all three organizations. View or download a PDF of the zine here or order a free copy in our shop.
 Jina B. Kim and Sami Schalk, “Reclaiming the Radical Politics of Self-Care: A Crip-of-Color Critique.” The South Atlantic Quarterly • April 2021, 334.