Anthony Bourdain: In Perfect Harmony

Posted on March 9, 2019

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It was with a heavy heart that I watched the final episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s TV show, Parts Unknown. I didn’t know him personally, but somehow I knew him. Maybe I just got caught up in his charismatic personality, his curiosity, his love for food, and his honest engagement with fellow travellers, and the inimitable array of people he met along the way. In later shows, I noticed that food became less of a focus and more on its locus: The people, the politics, and the nature surrounding (or rather, inspiring) the food. As a white male traveller, his generosity and celebration of the diversity of cultures he encountered was profoundly significant and impactful—what a dedicated traveller he was, spending over 200 days a year on airplanes and in hotels. (We can argue the problem of his whiteness, but this isn’t the focus of the article).

Bourdain expressed a genuine curiosity for people and was acutely aware of the unique cultures and politics that embodied wherever he rested his bones. He wasn’t a politician. He ate food and slugged beer, unabashedly, in the street, in bars, and inside the domestic walls of his welcoming hosts. He embraced and respected customs—including the visibly uneasy slaughtering of a goat in Tanzania during one episode of Parts Unknown. (Morgan, 2014)

It could be argued that Bourdain evolved into a serious journalist rather than simply being a connoisseur of great cuisine or a critic of food. He carried an aura of wanting to continually learn about people and their culture, and ideally, never at their expense, but in celebration or earnest care. While his journey began as a celebrity, the “chef” inside him remained both candid and humble, pulling back the curtain on many undervalued locales and cuisines of the world. He seemed intent on setting the stage for distinctly unknown communities to tell moving stories through his privileged lens. The food became a means to masterfully weave stories in ways that might potentially enlighten and enrapture his viewers.

In one of his last collections of essays The Nasty Bits, Bourdain talked about the transformative power of travel. He wrote: “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world, you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” (Quoted in Slaughter, 2018).

Bourdain’s show brought more than a love of food into my daily life. He sang a tune that resonated with my own food memories and invigorated my desire to “see the world sing together in perfect harmony (it’s the real thing).” (Delgado, 2017) Although this commercial by Coke has yet to be realized on a global scale, ultimately, it was at the heart of Bourdain’s work. A commercial venture turned into a message about embracing humanity in all of its glorious similarities and differences—and based predominantly on the love of food. Bourdain showed us that food doesn’t just nourish the body, but it feeds our sense of community, purpose, accomplishment, and culture. It nourishes the soul. It’s both confounding and heartbreaking that he was not able to embrace his own powerful message before taking his own life.

References:

Morgan, F. (2014). Parts Unknown. New York, NY: CNN

Slaughter, S. (2018, June 11). Anthony Bourdain Taught Me More Than Just How to Travel and Eat. The Manual. Retrieved from https://www.themanual.com/food-and-drink/what-anthony-bourdain-taught-me/

Delgado, A. Alex Delgado (2007, February, 9). It’s the real thing (Coke ad). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDSnjjdGh5M

 

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Posted in: Crime