Cooking with the Big Sad

by Zilla Novikov

Most advice for dealing with depression makes depressed people feel worse.

Fish oil supplements, running, and meditation help some people. Maybe they even help you. But for the rest of us, they deliver a simple message. Your depression is your own damn fault because of your bad lifestyle. If you ate better, exercised more, and changed your negative attitude, you wouldn’t have this problem. 

If you, like we did, look online for depression-friendly recipes, you will find almond-crusted barramundi and walnut-crusted maple salmon, promising Omega-3s to fight brain fog and B vitamins to boost mood. If you happen to be an inland-dwelling vegan, such personal lifestyle tweaks are inaccessible to the point of satire. This is a feature, not a bug. The thing these recipes have in common is that the cost of ingredients, difficulty of preparation, and incompatibility with numerous dietary restrictions mean they are inaccessible to most mentally ill people. If only you would do this, they promise, and then it becomes your fault because you do not, and so you must not really want to be well.

If capitalism is driving your employer to exploit you and the rich to destroy the planet, the solution is not to do Pilates about it. No amount of chia seeds are going to fix how you feel. You need some empathy and some survival strategies. Surviving means you have to eat, even if you don’t want to, even if there’s no food in the world worth the effort of lifting a spoon to your mouth. 

Many of us also have stigmas and taboos when it comes to food. Maybe someone has told you to avoid “bad” foods, or questioned if you really needed a second cookie. Maybe for you, the concept of eating is complicated by feelings of guilt or shame. But judgment doesn’t help. It’s better to eat than not, and we are not the sum of our worst days.

My depression is not my fault. My brain chemistry is fucked and I need medication to function. I tried lifestyle changes for years, delaying as long as I could before I acknowledged what felt like a moral failing. Before I accepted my inability to will myself cured. Diet advice gave me one more thing to try before taking that step. But crushed flax seeds weren’t what I needed. What I needed was a hug, and guidance to get through day by day until I was ready to admit my truth.

Depression cooking for me is low-effort, cheap, easy foods, with minimal ingredients that I probably already have in the house. It’s carb- and spice-heavy. It’s eating popcorn out of a bag or boiling instant noodles. It’s food that’s tasty enough to be appealing even when the thought of eating seems exhausting.

Of course, this isn’t the same for everyone! Some people have to avoid carbs or gluten, others find high levels of spice challenging at the best of times. Contrary to the advice you’ll find online and in diet books, there’s no silver bullet for our problems, individually or societally. But we can do our best to make things better for each other as a community. 

Collective change starts at a local level, and for us, dealing with the social problem of depression begins with acts of mutual aid. Whether it’s reminding folks that they’re not alone or sharing the coping strategies that have worked for us and our friends, we’re here with each other as we battle not just the Big Sad, but the environmental, political, and economic context that enables it at its worst.

a comic about two millennials sharing the cookbook and looking after each other in a broken world

I wrote a rant (see above) but I also—with my community—wrote a cookbook to share our coping strategies. The Sad Bastard Cookbook is funny, realistic, and kind. Also the e-book is free. We gotcha.

The Sad Bastard Cookbook Release!

Life is hard. Some days are at the absolute limit of what we can manage. Some days are worse than that. Eating—picking a meal, making it, putting it into your facehole—can feel like an insurmountable challenge. We wrote this cookbook to share our coping strategies. It has recipes to make when you’ve worked a 16-hour day, when you can’t stop crying and you don’t know why, when you accidentally woke up an Eldritch abomination at the bottom of the ocean. But most of all, this cookbook exists to help Sad Bastards like us feel a little less alone at mealtimes.

The Sad Bastard Cookbook is funny, realistic, and kind. It’s vegetarian/vegan. It’s a community-built project. And the e-book is free. It’s hard to survive late capitalism and we want to help.

The cover, featuring an uncooked block of ramen on a plate.

Want an e-copy? Newsletter subscribers get it right away so sign up and enjoy! Plus, the newsletter has monthly pictures of our cats. Sometimes our dogs and our fish. But mostly cats.

Want an e-copy and hate newsletters? We’ll make it free for everyone in January on the e-book platform of your choice. Or sign up to the newsletter and unsubscribe after you get the Sad Bastard Cookbook. We all know how to game online systems.

Want a print copy? Unfortunately, the pervasive nature of capitalism means we’re selling print copies on Amazon for money. We live in a society.

Want a print copy and hate Amazon and/or capitalism? We’re not the biggest fans either. Subscribe to the newsletter, download the free pdf, and print it. We’re cool with that. We made it legal with Creative Commons (4.0 attribution non-commercial), but if you get a thrill from breaking the law, you can pretend it’s not.

person 1 cries. person 2 "what's wrong" person 1 "im a depressed millennial, the earth is dying, the fascists are in power, and i have to work 4 jobs to afford my shoebox apartment" person 1: "i can't help with that but here's a book so you can eat" person 1: "merr crismas"

Want to help us make The Sad Bastard Cookbook a success? Work with us to game the book-recommendation algorithms so more people see the cookbook in their suggested “To Read” books. Leave us a review Goodreads or Storygraph (or anywhere else). The algorithms rate reviews higher than anything else, so saying what you honestly thought of the book is incredibly valuable to us—and to other readers. It’s one of the best things you can do to promote our work.

Want an amazing editor for your own project? Victoria Rose (she/her) is an editor, writer, avid reader, self-described geek, and fan of all things creative. You can find her at FlickeringWords.com. Lindsay Hobbs (she/her) is a book lover, fiction editor, occasional writer, and cat mom. You can find her at topazliterary.com. We had a truly wonderful experience working with both of them. Their eye for detail was incredible, and they knew how to change our words without changing our meaning. Most of all, they believed in the project and they treated our work with love. If you need an editor for your writing project, you should see if either of them have an opening.

Want to hear us get sappy? The Sad Bastard Cookbook was the work of the community coming together. From professional editors volunteering their time, to complete strangers suggesting recipes, it was truly a wonderful experience to create something meaningful with so many of you. We hope it help you find food you can eat, and helps you know that you are loved. Please, take care of yourself.

Content notes for The Sad Bastard Cookbook: Mental and physical illness, disordered eating, and dark humour throughout, as well as occasional mentions of alcohol, swearing, and political references. If you have specific food triggers, some recipes may be unpalatable to you.

Sad Bastard Cookbook Updates!

We all need a friend like The Sad Bastard Cookbook. Someone who makes you laugh. Someone even nerdier than you are. Someone who doesn’t judge you when the only thing you can get into your face hole is peanut butter on a spoon. We are delighted to say that the The Sad Bastard Cookbook is getting closer and closer to being a real live book who can be that supportive friend!

Sad Bastard Cookbook Cover Teaser 2

Two truly marvelous editors, Victoria Rose of Flickering Words and Lindsay Hobbs of Topaz Literary volunteered their skills and their time to proofread the manuscript. And so many of you beta tested the recipes, or contributed ideas. Thanks so much to all of you, we are nearly ready to launch.

The e-book will be available to newsletter subscribers in early December. If you want to gift the e-book for Christmas—sign up for the newsletter, and go for it! The e-book will be “sold” for free to the general public a month later, in January.

The print book will be for sale on Amazon in early December, also in time for Christmas gifting. Rachel is working on layout as fast as she can so we can (hopefully) make it available in time for shipping deadlines! It will cost actual money to buy the print edition. If you prefer to download the free pdf and print that instead of purchasing from Amazon, we are cool with that.

Thank you again to everyone who helped make this happen. We can’t wait to share The Sad Bastard Cookbook with all of you.

Behind the Screens: Tuesday Author Interview

Every Tuesday, get to know a bit about the stories behind the books you love, and discover your next favourite novel.

The cover of the sad bastard cookbook

Sabitha: Today we talk to one of the Night Beats creators, Zilla Novikov, about The Sad Bastard Cookbook. Full disclosure—I beta read this cookbook, and I love it already. But for people who haven’t had the chance to read it yet, Zilla, tell us about the project that you created with Rachel A. Rosen and Marten Norr.

Zilla: Thanks Sabitha! The Sad Bastard Cookbook is a cookbook of coping mechanisms and dark humour. There’s a lot of mental illness in the Night Beats community—and the world. We wanted to share how we get through eating on the days when picking up a spoon seems impossible. Also, we wanted an excuse to make jokes about Watchmen when we eat beans straight from the can. This cookbook let us do both at once.

Sabitha: What inspired you to write this book?

Zilla: I realized I needed to write this book while watching Mrs P stream Dead by Daylight on Twitch. We were discussing ramen hacks, and someone mentioned adding egg to ramen soup to up the protein. Mrs P asked whether you needed to cook the egg first, and the whole community chimed in with suggestions for ways to make egg-in-ramen soup. Before that chat, I thought everyone already knew about eggs in ramen. And I thought there was only one way to prepare them. 

As we’ve worked on this project with our community, I’ve realized that everyone has a version of my story. Sometimes it’s about teaching their sibling, sometimes their students, or sometimes their friends. Eating is essential, but when you’re depressed, or exhausted, or overworked, it can be really hard. Little tricks like eggs in ramen can be so important. This cookbook meant Rachel and I could share our coping strategies, and at the same time learn from everyone else in our community. 

Sabitha: You’ve written two books already, Reprise and Query, and Rachel’s published Cascade. How did writing The Sad Bastard Cookbook differ from writing fiction?

Zilla: You’ve already mentioned the first difference—this is my first time co-writing a book, and my first time having it illustrated. I’m so lucky to work with such fantastic, creative people, who understand what I’m trying to express even when I can’t put it into words. Which is a bad trait in a writer!

The other difference is that this cookbook was sourced from the community. We asked around widely for suggestions about recipes to include, and we were not disappointed! From Cheater Channa Masala to a new pancake recipe, I learned so many tips and tricks, and it’s been wonderful seeing how caring our community is.

Sabitha: It’s an unusual process, but also an unusual sales tactic. You’re making it free.

Zilla: We’re making the e-book free. Unfortunately, we don’t have the wealth to make the paper copy free to everyone who wants it. But we’re not impressed with how capitalism makes it expensive to be mentally ill or in poverty. There might not be much we can do to fight that system, but we can make our book free for people to learn these coping strategies. 

We’re going to release early December, in time for Christmas gifting. The paper copy will go up on Amazon then, and our newsletter subscribers will get access to the free e-book. Both editions make great gifts! We’ll “sell” the e-book version to the general public in Jan, but newsletter subscribers get the bonus of early access to the e-book. We hope you like it!

A Favour

We poured out heart into writing The Sad Bastard Cookbook, and we’ve been amazed by the reaction. It’s touching people—reminding them that doing your best is enough, that it’s okay to have bad days, and that you can make something tasty out of things you forgot were in the back of the freezer.

A picture of the Sad Bastard Cookbook cover, covered in mess. It says Coming Soon.

We want to share this cookbook as widely as possible, and it seems like a lot of you want to help, so everyone who could benefit from it can find it. You can help us make The Sad Bastard Cookbook a success.

Work with us to game the book-recommendation algorithms so more people see the cookbook in their suggested “To Read” books. Right now, mark it on Goodreads or Storygraph as “Want to Read”. Once we publish, get your copy (free e-book here). When you’ve read it, leave us a review. The algorithms rate reviews higher than anything else, so saying what you honestly thought of the book is incredibly valuable to us—and to other readers. It’s one of the best things you can do to promote our work.

Thanks.

Another Sad Bastard Cookbook Cover Teaser

Ever have one of those days? You know you need to cook dinner, but you can’t stop thinking. About the climate apocalypse. About the friend you lost in middle school. About the Eldritch abomination at the bottom of the ocean that neither speaks nor sleeps, only waits. The Sad Bastard Cookbook might help you — at least with dinner.

Sad Bastard Cookbook Cover Teaser 2

Want early access? Sign up to beta test our recipes, or to get a free advance e-book. Plus, stay tuned for Wednesday when we reveal the full cover. Because sometimes one of those days turns into one of those lifetimes. And even sad bastards have to eat.

Joel’s Thai Sweet-Potato Soup

The team at Night Beats Productions is working night and day on The Sad Bastard Cookbook. An essential element of this cookbook is community—sharing recipes and learning new meals. This suggestion from Joel Troster sounded so good that Rohan O’Duill had to make it for himself!

We won’t be including this particular meal in the cookbook—it’s a bit more effort than we personally can manage when we’re in the depths of depression. But it is delicious. So we decided to share the recipe with everyone on this blog. Enjoy!

A bowl of soup
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