By Rebecca Casalino
Sonali Menezes is a Hamilton-based artist who maintains an interdisciplinary practice deeply rooted in community. She works as an arts educator, facilitator, and knowledge gatherer throughout her artistic projects. This intersectional approach is highlighted in work like her 2015 project “Untitled (Lavender Harvest)” where she collected local lavender and made jellies and syrups as gifts for the workers who cultivated the garden. Her work as a knowledge gatherer is evident in her zine-making practice where digital copies of So Your Anxious As Fuck and Depression Cooking are available for download on Etsy for $1.00. Menezes’ body of work varies in medium with her politics acting as a connecting thread throughout her performance, video, sculpture, printmaking, and poetry.
Rebecca Casalino: Depression Cooking: easy recipes for when you’re depressed as fuck is so lovely and so personal, Sonali—it was a pleasure to read, and it was lovely to attend your Depression Cooking Virtual Dinner in February. I wanted to start this interview by speaking about the people you thank for supporting and inspiring you throughout the making of this zine. Can you speak to your Depression Cooking allies?
Sonali Menezes: It meant so much to me that you came to the virtual dinner, Rebecca! You also shared a wonderful idea for depression focaccia using store-bought pizza dough (total genius). I really want to emphasize how much this zine doesn’t belong to me; I don’t own the knowledge that’s shared. It’s very much collective, and I like to think of myself as a collector in this context. So much of the inspiration for this zine came from really everyone I’ve ever lived with or eaten with in my life. Conversations with friends and family, and messages from complete strangers on social media. To narrow things down a bit, I want to focus on thanking four people. The first is Anna Bowen from artseverywhere.ca, who sent me a pitch invitation for her Complicating Care, series and helped me find a home for this project. The second is Abedar Kamgari who encouraged me to apply for special project funding through Hamilton Artists Inc. so that the first print-run of the zine could be shared entirely for free. Third is Jeffrey who is my number one supporter and always washes the dishes. Last is my maternal grandmother Elizabeth Francis who taught me that all you need to do to start cooking a meal is to fry up a chopped onion and garlic in a pan with oil. But I do stress both in the zine and I also mentioned this at the virtual dinner: that cutting onions is not ideal for depression cooking. Mainly because when you induce crying in depressed humans, it’s hard to stop crying!
Your family’s support of this project is so wholesome. Can you speak a little bit about their roles in creating, and inspiring the zine?
I’m very lucky and privileged that my family always supports my weird projects. Whether they understand them or not, they show up and I’m grateful. I learned how to cook from observing the adults around me growing up – and that was my parents and my grandmother. I have specific sections of the zine that are inspired by them. The ‘faster boiling method,’ which involves bringing water to the boil in an electric kettle and then pouring it into a pot on a hot element on the stove comes from my father. Open-faced sandwiches, or “Things on Toast,” as I call it in the zine, are inspired by my mother. I started relying on meal replacement drinks thanks to my sister. It’s impossible to divorce my relationship with food from my family.
The experience of writing Depression Cooking while depressed and trying to cook for yourself must have been very meta. You even describe being unemployed at the beginning of the pandemic and struggling. How do you handle professional struggles artists face like unemployment, rejection, and the constant juggling of deadlines?
Initially, I had planned on releasing the zine in November of 2021. But then the days became colder and darker, and my seasonal depression kicked in on top of my regular depression, and honestly, I really struggled with completing the zine. After only recently moving into a new house with two roommates, we got evicted and needed to find new housing. I needed to flip the timeline on the project to reflect on what was happening in my life and to balance my own mental health. I had initially written the Depression Cooking Zine into a residency proposal for the AGO that was rejected. I find the key to handling constant rejection is to keep applying, despite the rejection because eventually, something will stick. And I was right with this project, it fits well into Anna Bowen’s Complicating Care Series. I think deadlines are so tricky. I’m a full-time arts administrator for my day job, and the only way I’m able to manage the projects I do are with deadlines. But when I’m off the clock working on my own personal projects, I find deadlines hard to meet outside of my 9 to 5 while balancing the rest of my life. Being an artist while also paying your bills is hard, and I haven’t quite figured out a balance yet.
Food is so political, personal, and vulnerable especially when it intersects with mental health. I loved the way you tackled diet culture calling out propaganda, white vegans, and neoliberal consumerism. Can you speak to writing The Depression Cooking Manifesto in the center of the zine?
I actually wrote the Depression Cooking Manifesto in one sitting at the Central Public library in Downtown Hamilton, and I feel very connected to the second floor for that reason. Writing the manifesto was very cathartic for me. Suzanne Carte asked me during the virtual dinner if there was anything that I learned from writing the manifesto. And my response is that I learned how to be just as kind to myself when it comes to food as I am with my intended zine audience. Sometimes it’s easy to dole out advice in my zines, it’s another thing to genuinely listen and apply what I’m writing to my own life. The manifesto was this moment where I was able to do that.
I loved that you mentioned chocolate Ensures in the “Grab-and-Go” section of the zine. How did your sister introduce you to the idea of meal replacements?
I was at my sister’s apartment during the pandemic. She’s a doctor and incredibly busy between work and a full-time master’s degree. We were unloading groceries and I was very hangry. A six-pack of ensures were sitting on her counter and she suggested I try one so that I would be less hangry before we cooked lunch and I’ve relied on them ever since.
You allude to this need for community knowledge when you write “I wanted to create something that I could have given my 18-year-old self when I moved out of my parents’ home.” Do you see this project as adding to a conversation around resource sharing and the need for more community resources?
Definitely. All the information I’ve shared already exists in the world; I don’t own it. I think this all especially exists in some form on the internet, but I find the internet to be an incredibly overwhelming place. I think that’s why zines have endured, despite the internet—because they’re focused. I don’t reach the same sense of overwhelm or exhaustion when reading a zine that I do trying to find a straight answer on the internet. So, Depression Cooking is me trying to fill that gap. My first zine that entered into the realm of resource sharing was So You’re Anxious As Fuck: tips and tricks and things, from 2016, I made the second edition in 2018, and that’s my most popular zine apart from Depression Cooking. That zine is a little more ‘self-help’ oriented and prescriptive, but I like to think of Depression Cooking as more of a love letter to my depressed kin.
You address the reader directly and personally – and I find you give them quite a bit of agency. In the introduction to the zine, you write: “you’re the expert on your own survival”. How did you approach writing for a depressed audience?
I thought about myself as a depressed human and what I would like to hear and wrote with that in mind. Mind you, we’re all depressed in very different ways, and I know this zine might not be ideal for everyone.
To wrap up I wanted readers to know the context of this zine within your wider artistic practice. Knowing your work and background, the concept of The Holy Trinity of Depression Cooking  (Mac and Cheese, Instant Ramen and Toast) really made me chuckle. The body and shame are so tied up in Catholic ideology and I appreciate your different approaches to these subjects. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your recent video work that you made during your residency at Factory Media in 2020, and how it relates back to mental health and community support.
I think moving through zines, video work, and performance work really demonstrates why I call myself an interdisciplinary artist! While I would no longer call myself a Catholic, the lessons I learned being raised as a Catholic are constantly informing my practice. The video work I made specifically during my residency at Factory Media was about rejecting my jealousy of white, blonde women through rituals informed by my Catholic upbringing. I wanted to explore the notion of jealousy being a ‘sin,’ that could be cleansed or forgiven. But then I also wanted to complicate this notion of jealousy being a bad thing within the context of being raised under white supremacy. In 2019 and 2020 I was healing from exiting a bad relationship with a racialized man who had been cheating on me with white, blonde women. My mental health was at a low point, and I relied on a lot of support from my friends and family at that time. Sometimes the best way to heal is to make bad art about your feelings.
Check out Sonali Menezes’ Etsy shop for print copies or digital downloads of Depression Cooking.
You can find this interview in the second print issue of Femme Art Review on Queer and Feminist Collaboration.
- Menezes, Sonali. “Preface,” Depression Cooking: easy recipes for when you are depressed as fuck. Publication Studio Guelph, Artseverywhere.ca and Hamilton Artists INC. 2022. 2.
- Menezes, “Introduction.” Depression Cooking: easy recipes for when you are depressed as fuck. Publication Studio Guelph, Artseverywhere.ca and Hamilton Artists INC. 2022. 4.
- Ibid, 5.