Trigger warning: this article addresses substance abuse, self-harm and suicide.
As news of celebrity chef and travel journalist Anthony Bourdain’s death continues to spread throughout the world, let’s take a moment to celebrate a life centered around more than food. A life that celebrated people and learning.
Food was always more than just nourishment
From the earliest days of his TV career, Bourdain approached food in a way that was almost singular for his time.
It wasn’t just about taste, it wasn’t about presentation, and it certainly wasn’t all about fine ingredients. For Bourdain, food was always a gateway into other cultures, histories and experiences. Food was a conversation starter, a means to connect with other people, and a classroom.
Food was always a story about a people’s past, present and future. It was political, social and economical. Bourdain would always look at the personal and collected history reflected in a dish or a culture’s cuisine.
Whether it told a story of repression, a prolonged state of poverty or a deep cultural appreciation of a community before individual needs, food told story. And for Bourdain, getting to the heart of that story was the ultimate goal.
He was never afraid to look at the dark side of life
Whether it was his past failures, his years-long struggle with heavy drug abuse, or his complicity in the macho culture of the food and restaurant scene that allowed predators like Mario Batali to get away unpunished for years, Bourdain was never afraid to look into the mirror, recognize the error of his ways and strive to do better. More often than not, he succeeded.
Bourdain also often spoke of his own privilege and that of most westerners compared to many of the places his travels would take him. Witnessing hunger, poverty and even war, Bourdain often spoke of the necessity to treat local cultures with respect and humbleness, to partake when invited, but never assume, intrude or glorify. He was not afraid to question his own impact on places he would visit and the people he met along the way.
He was a strong ally in the #MeToo movement
As the #MeToo movement spread like wildfire throughout the world and gut-wrenching stories of abuse and assault surfaced, Bourdain became one of the strongest and loudest male voices speaking up in support of the countless women who had previously suffered in silence.
As news surfaced of fellow celebrity chef Mario Batali’s long-time sexual harassment and assault, Bourdain cut ties with him immediately and minced no words in calling out the abusers.
Actress and girlfriend Asia Argento was one of Harvey Weinstein’s many victims. When Argento came forward with her story, Bourdain stood steadfast by her, encouraging her and many other victims, showing unrelenting support.
After Argento’s Cannes speech in which she told a stunned room that Weinstein had sexually assaulted her at the festival’s 1997 edition, Bourdain told IndieWire: “I was so proud of her. It was absolutely fearless to walk right into the lion’s den and say what she said, the way she said it. I am honored to know someone who has the strength and fearlessness to do something like that.”
He encouraged audiences not to be afraid of “others”
Bourdain relished the opportunity to immerse himself in other cultures, or at least peak behind the door of otherness. He always urged readers and viewers to go out unafraid into the world, to meet and learn about different cultures, because at the end of the day, we are all the same.
Whether it was about enjoying a fusion dish at a five-star hotel, comfort food munched down during an Indian cricket match, or a bowl of noodles in Hanoi with President Barack Obama, the lesson at the end of a day was always remarkably simple: all of us just want to be safe, loved and happy.
We all want to enjoy a good meal, drink and good conversation. We don’t have to be afraid of each other. We can choose not to be afraid of each other.
Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Fareast, eating only in Hard rock Cafes and McDonalds?
Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.
— Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential
Editor’s Note: Struggling and feeling hopeless? You are not alone. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).