Tavo Dam on Finding Balance, Learning Self-Care & Speaking Out

Tavo Dam is an avid home cook, a certified wine professional and all around oenophile, and a young Latinx queer man living in Brooklyn. This week, he spoke with Dr. Chinara Tate about finding a healthy routine as a freelancer during the pandemic, learning to manage anxiety and mental wellness, and getting involved in the national BLM movement. Plus, he shared a couple of recipes!

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“Sometimes you just need to close your door for a day and take a breath, and that’s okay! “
-Tavo Dam

Tavo, At A Glance

What gets you out of bed? Heading outside to sit on the stoop or the fire escape to catch up on the news from the last day.

Healthy Habits Suncare, smoothies, fruit, water & prioritizing mental health.

Vices Wine and homemade ice cream.

One piece of health/wellness advice Right now, I think that wellness is super personal—it’s about connecting with yourself more than ever and taking the time to understand what makes you happy, sad, angry, etc. I’ve taken these last few months to explore personal projects that bring me joy and that provide both a creative and emotional outlet— to me that’s meant starting a zine with friends, playing around with food styling and photography, and generally working on the interior design of my apartment.

Something I've learned recently I’ve come to understand that anti-racist work doesn’t happen overnight. It’s continuous and difficult, but the most important thing we can do right now. I’m prioritizing my physical and mental wellbeing throughout the day to make sure that I’m not burning out. I’ve set up recurring donations to several organizations. One that I feel particularly passionate about is The Okra Project and their full meal program, which supports black trans chefs by hiring them to cook for food-insecure trans persons. I’m also keeping a reading list so that I don’t get overwhelmed cramming resources. 

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Tavo’s Morning Routine

I’ve never been a great morning person, but under quarantine I’ve tried to establish more of a routine. I like to be a little flexible with my sleep schedule, allowing myself to sleep in a bit since I’m a recent freelancer and set my own schedule. I’m quite a night owl, so I don’t feel too bad about sleeping in if I was up late doing work the night before. I usually get up around 8:30 or 9am to enjoy these warm, sunny mornings that have started to roll into NYC and take a few moments to head outside, sit on the stoop or the fire escape, and catch up on the news from the last day. It’s been dizzying, but staying informed has been super important as we’re in such vital times in our country.

Over the last two weeks, my routine has changed a lot. I’ve been outside a lot more, joining in the protests across Manhattan and Brooklyn. It’s been rewarding and exciting to be out there, but has required me to adjust how I manage my time. 

News Budget. Albeit critical to remain informed in this moment of unprecedented shift and flux, it is essential to take news breaks to preserve mental health, prevent burnout and avoid paralysis in this critical time. Setting a timer for a news budget as well as scheduling in another activity that requires a shift focus can be helpful.

On Managing Anxiety

I have been working to be more mindful of my current state, giving myself check-ins throughout the day like: are you currently clenching your jaw, are you holding stress in your shoulders, when was the last time you refilled your water bottle? 

Some days I can work with ease, knowing that I’ll be attending a protest later. Other times it feels like the news cycle, my social media channels, and the action on the streets are all coming together in a deafening manner. It's not a bad thing (all the info and resources right now are AMAZING and overdue!) but it can be overwhelming. I’m working to take stock of the ways that I work, how I consume and how I engage in conversation. I’m working as a queer Latinx man to listen and understand how my experiences differ from the black experience, how I can be a better ally to my friends and to black community at large. 

 


 

On Self-Care 

 

I’ve never been a huge fitness person, generally relying mostly on long walks and bike rides for exercise, which I’ve had a harder time motivating myself to do under quarantine. What’s the fun of a long walk if there isn’t a tasty treat waiting on the other side? However, I’ve turned a lot of my focus to my mental health—giving myself days to log off early, taking a break on a warm afternoon to find a shady corner on the fire escape and read my book, or cooking up a more elaborate-than-usual meal. Because, why not? *Check out some of Tavo's recipes below.

I’ve also been very lucky to be able to continue with my therapist via telephone. Talking with someone about how unprecedented these times are, how we’re all working to take care of ourselves and how challenging it is to maintain relationships right now has been very grounding and validating. It’s given me a lot of space to check out when I need to, and to not feel guilt about being gentle with myself. Sometimes you just need to close your door for a day and take a breath, and that’s okay! 

Lastly my skincare routine - every morning includes: face wash, toner, vitamin C, moisturizer and sunscreen. 

Sunscreen. Suncare, including sunscreen is an essential part of protecting our skin from sunburns, aging, and importantly, skin cancer. However, there is evidence to suggest that a single application of sunscreen can increase blood levels of chemical ingredients that may be harmful and that may linger in the body for days or even weeks. So how do you best protect your skin from the sun? Dermatologists advise:
  • Avoiding the sun when UV radiation is at its peak between 11am and 4pm
  • Using mineral-based sunscreens containing both zinc and titanium
  • Wearing clothing that has built-in sun protection

Vices

Wine. Wine. Wine. What can I say? Drinking natural wine is one of my greatest joys in life—plus it's part of my work! My roommates and I tend to split a bottle of wine each night, pairing it with whatever we’ve cooked up. I know that it should be consumed in moderation, but at least in these moments I take a lot of comfort in getting excited about choosing the night’s bottle and coming together over a home-cooked meal. It brings just a slight feeling of normalcy. Plus, I generally tend to treat wine-drinking as research, being mindful of the product that I’m drinking and working to understand how and by who it was made. 

My other big vice lately has been ice cream. I am fairly lactose intolerant, so had mostly given it up before quarantine, but I’ve just needed that little treat. Plus, I made homemade ice cream with a gallon of milk that we weren’t really using. Having the deli quart of it in the freezer has been DANGEROUS. But luckily it’s quite sweet so just a few spoonfuls has been comforting and satisfying to close out the night.

 

Tavo's Recipe Box

Caviar Totchos

     Jammy Eggs on Toast                                       Caviar Totchos