Trigger warning: mention of suicide
It’s been three years since famed chef, The New York Times best-selling author, and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain committed suicide. It shook the world and to this day, many still can’t over his untimely death. Not only did people relate to his sense of wanderlust but people also related to his struggle during his early years as a young chef – dealing with drug addiction and mental health. Bourdain’s vulnerability, intellect, and humor created an air of warmth and magnetism that has transcended his lifetime and has found (what seems like) a permanent spot in the ever-changing zeitgeist.
While he had his hands in many creative pockets, the majority of Bourdain’s fame came from his travel documentary series, No Reservations (2005-2012) and Parts Unknown (2013-2018). Both of these shows explored the world primarily through a culinary lens and secondarily through a socio-political lens. Over the course of 13 years, Bourdain took us on adventures to places we couldn’t even imagine and showed us that food, culture, and politics are inherently intertwined. From famous locations like Tokyo and Hanoi, to the lesser known places like the Congo and Uzbekistan, Anthony Bourdain entered these spaces with something that many white colonizers/visitors before him didn’t have — respect.
The frustrating fact is that the culinary world is not only extremely elitist, but it’s overwhelmingly white and dangerously misogynistic. Bourdain, despite being a white cis-het man, managed to navigate the toxic terrain of the culinary world and carve out an influential space to uplift the voices of those who were outcast by the aforementioned white elitism. On the day of Bourdain’s death, comedian and writer, Jenny Yang, aptly tweeted,
“Bourdain never treated our food like he “discovered” it. He kicked it with grandma because he knew that HE was the one that needed to catch up to our brilliance. I wish so much for his legacy to take hold in western (mostly white) food media culture. What a loss. I’m so sad.”
One of Anthony Bourdain’s most notable traits was his ability to proudly take on the role of the student. Always learning and listening, he knew that the locals were far more knowledgeable than he was. Along with giving locals a platform to speak and educate, he made sure to remind the audience of the sad truth — that many of the countries he was visiting were victims of imperialism. On his CNN show, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, he spoke about culinary cultural appropriation and said, “Look, the story of food is the story of appropriation, of invasion and mixed marriages and war and, you know . . . it constantly changes. You know, what’s authentic anyway?” It was a dark reminder that the truth of the matter is that while these cultures are exciting and rich in history, we would never truly understand the depth and origin of these cultures because of the tyranny of colonization.
Anthony Bourdain set the gold standard of cultural appreciation as we know it today. To those who are accused of cultural appropriation and cry that you’re actually appreciating the culture, learn from the teachings and practices of Anthony Bourdain — listen to the people of that culture, appreciate that you have been let into their “home,” and always remember that you are a guest.
Photo via CNN