Friday, June 8, 2018

On Anthony Bourdain

I will (shamefully) admit that the news three days ago of the suicide of Kate Spade had no affect on me. While I will lament any suicide, I had never heard of Kate Spade, so it simply became part of the regular churning news cycle.

Generally, I don't wax eloquent about celebrity anything, even their deaths. But today is different. I don't fully understand why this one is different, but it is.

Anthony Bourdain was not one of those faceless celebrity names, one we can put aside. Anthony Bourdain was a regular houseguest in my home, a vicarious friend, maybe even a mentor. He was more than a travel show, more than mindless entertainment. In point of fact, while certainly entertaining, Anthony leveraged our short entertainment attention span to actually teach us something about the rest of the world.

Rather than just being bland shows about interesting (or at times shocking) foods, Bourdain's adventures leveraged our entertainment and pseudo-food interests to broaden our horizons to the ecosystems, the geography, and the cultures that spawned those foods. He taught us to take chances to expand our culinary horizons, challenging our little food/culture/geography enclosures, but more importantly he taught us about the rest of the world outside our little boxes.

Unconsciously to us, we actually learned something important from him while we just figured we were being entertained.

Anthony introduced us to new people, new countries, and especially new cultures, consistently challenging our core beliefs and understandings of those cultures, all while we witnessed challenges to his very own beliefs more often than not. We didn’t necessarily agree with his beliefs - and never felt the requirement to - but we sincerely respected them, because we recognized that he sincerely respected our beliefs. We were proud to have him be our statesman, our ambassador, our antithesis of the “Ugly American”.

Thanks to Anthony, I occasionally look for restaurants and items on menus for something new that I’ve never tried before. Contrary to today’s obsession with them, I can directly attribute my initial “bravery” of trying something from a food truck - some old square truck with food! - directly to Anthony Bourdain. He had me try pho - and I liked it. And he had almost – almost! – gotten me to try blood sausage…maybe it’s time.

Anthony also taught us more about the unsavory side of the food preparation industry, far more than we wanted to know. He taught us to be tolerant of an industry seems to be such as easy thing to do, maybe something fun to do, yet we now realize it is neither.

He also, ironically and sadly, ultimately taught us of the demons that can haunt the human condition. “There but by the grace of God…” And his internal conflicts between an obvious love of animals versus a strong appetite for “meat on the stick” was something we can all relate to.

In the end, Anthony Bourdain allowed us to vicariously – and enviously – tag along and see new places, eat new foods, meet new people, sharing a meal in the restaurants and even private homes of the seemingly-mundane but truly spectacular, things and people and places and stuff that we all know deep down we’ll never get to do ourselves. We’ll miss that.

I mourn the untimely death of Anthony Bourdain, but more so I mourn the fate of those of us that have been left behind, those of us that will continue on without him. Because we are all a little bit lesser now. I certainly am.

Words have no truer meaning: Rest In Peace, Anthony Bourdain. I’m glad we knew you; I truly hope your demons have now been exorcised.

And I promise I’ll always remember to “respect the pig”.