02 July 18

Thoughts on Anthony Bourdain and fear

I’ve been talking to a lot of friends lately about how I feel regarding Anthony Bourdain’s death. My friends’ reactions run the gamut from “I’m devastated” to “Maybe I’m an awful person, and it’s sad, but I don’t really feel sad”. And all of these reactions, and everything in between, are fine and make sense.

But I’m also sad. Incredibly sad. If I think about it for too long, or talk about it for too long, I start to cry. Which is an odd reaction for me, to be so sad about losing someone I wasn’t friends with. I did meet him once, briefly, at Hot Doug’s. And it was amazing. He was incredibly nice and talked to people in line about Chicago. Each time someone would start to go on about how awesome he was, he would deftly change the subject to be what they like about Chicago food. It was a skilled maneuver. And it made me think he was just a dude, who liked food, and saw how liking food could get people to like each other.

I’m a little sad that I’ve spent more time examining why I like Anthony Bourdain after his death, than I did while he was alive. A few friends over the years would occasionally make comments discounting him and I just couldn’t put my finger on why I felt the need to defend him, so I didn’t. People like who they like. #shrug

But now that he is gone, and gone in such a horrible way, well before his time. And knowing that he must have experienced such dramatic and awful secret bouts of pain for so many years that I never knew about. Now I can’t handle criticism of him. Sure, he wasn’t perfect. He has ex-wives. I’m sure he broke hearts and made people mad and hurt their feelings. But now that he’s gone, I think I know what and why I liked him so much.

He was just a dude. He just came off like a masculine (but not quite macho, close to macho) guy dude. He was a manly man. He exuded sexual confidence, and confidence, and he smoked and he drank and he ate crazy foods and he got passionate about things and seemed distant at the same time. But I doubt anyone could have, or would have, called him feminine to his face. He was a man. A man’s man. A lady’s man. He was a man.

But he wasn’t a jerk about it. His masculinity did not involve him reducing women to stereotypes or minimizing them or their work. He gave just as much respect to a grandmother who had never left her village or read a book as he did to world-renowned chefs who changed the world with their food. He respected each person for what they did and what they could do, given time. He treated men and women similarly. Sure, it was obvious that he occasionally found a woman attractive, but he still treated her with respect, or seemed to on camera. His name thankfully hasn’t come up with the #metoo next to it.

But how he reacted to finding out that people’s he’s been friends with, men he’s done business with, were involved in some heinous things has been the exact way that all men should react. His reaction made me cry, in a healing way. I’m too lazy to find links, so if you care, you can find them. But his reaction can be paraphrased to be:

I found out people I cared about were involved, had been harrassed, by men I knew. And I had no idea. So I had to ask myself: What kept these people from trusting me with their story? What made them think I wouldn’t believe them?

And, gentlemen, please take this as what you should be asking yourself right now. You know someone who has been affected by this. Maybe it “just hasn’t come up”. But maybe, likely, they don’t trust you to believe them. And if it could possibly be the latter, then the problem is yours to fix, not the women you know.

But it wasn’t just sexual harrassment and sexism he was on the right side of the story on. It was also immigration and racism. For years, more than a decade, he has been very vocal about how awful our immigration policies are and how they so negatively impact immigrants and the people who hire them. The restaurant and general food industry would shut down if all immigrants were removed from our kitchens and fields. And he’s talked about this, intensively, on his show and also in his books and in interviews, and magazine articles. He’s fought strongly for the rights of immigrants. He’s argued for changing our policies, supporting people who are here (no matter what their status is), and generally treating people like people, first.

I don’t know what he wanted and didn’t want on a personal level. But after following his words for a very long time, I know he was unhappy with the political tenor and how it is negatively impacting our country. And he saw how that would affect food. And how that effect on food would effect so many other aspects of our culture. Food was his nexus, his foothold, but it wasn’t his true focus. Getting people to stop and pay attention to everything around them, not just what they saw in their own daily life was his goal.

I’ve seen so many people say that Anthony Bourdain made them want to travel to anywhere, everywhere. But I’m realizing now, after his death, how deeply his focus was not on travel, but on perspective. We don’t have to travel to Columbia to eat Columbian food and talk with Columbian people. Especially not in a city like Chicago. All we have to do is travel outside of our comfort zone. Go down a street we’ve never been down and eat at a restaurant that we’ve never noticed before. Eat the food, absorb the atmosphere of the restaurant, talk with the staff. See them as people, not representatives of their culture, but representatives of themselves. Find what is interesting about them, enjoy it, stop being so afraid. Stop being so afraid and try something new.


  1. This was lovely, dude. He wasn’t particularly meaningful to me, but I enjoyed his stuff when I ran into it. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here—it wasn’t the food that was the thing, the food was his way in to just experience. Experience places, experience people, experience life.

    carolyn on Jul 3, 05:17 pm

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