What Anthony Bourdain meant to the world

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This is the second time I’ve had to write something this in less than a month, following Scott Hutchison’s death in May. Someone who I’d never met, yet had a profound impact on my life, has taken theirs.

Anthony Bourdain is the patron saint of most every traveler, especially those of us who write & share our experiences. If someone doesn’t like him or his work, then that’s probably the sort of person I’d steer away from.

I’d traveled before knowing about Tony, of course, but it was through his TV shows & books that I found an even better sense of what it means to be a citizen of the world, to travel with respect, and to learn from and be open to new cultures.

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Photo: Anna Hanks – Anthony Bourdain interviewed by Nathan Thornburgh, SXSW 2016, Austin, Texas

Travelers who are seeking new experiences often do so trying to find that balance between finding things on their own, but also taking in the knowledge of those who have been somewhere before them. It’s always been my preference to learn from locals, but that’s not necessarily easy, particularly if you are an introvert. Sometimes it’s wonderful to stumble upon some great place on your own in some manner. Other times, you put your faith in kindred spirits, people who you know have good taste and you can trust to steer you somewhere great. Anthony Bourdain was one of those people.

When I visited Chile in 2011, I reached a point where after a couple of weeks of travel, I wanted to find an easy good meal. I wondered if Anthony Bourdain had been to Santiago, and a quick search told me that indeed he had. He had visited Fuente Alemana, a local sandwich shop. It happened to be just a block away from my hostel. I had walked past it several times, having no idea of what was inside. Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, I had one of the best sandwiches I ever had in my life: El Lomito.

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Look at that thing. It’s gorgeous. Shaved slices of marinated pork loin, then kept in a broth, and topped with mayo and avocado on fresh bread. I always envisioned that if I’d ever had to meet the chance to meet Anthony Bourdain, I would profusely thank him for introducing me to that sandwich.

That wasn’t the only time through the years that I would end up following in the footsteps of the man we referred to as Uncle Tony. Hello, Robot Restaurant. Other times, he would follow in mine, as he did when he visited one of my favorite bars in San Francisco, Toronado, when filming an episode of The Layover.

Even when I would think I’d found places on my own, he’d managed to get there first. When I visited Porto last year, I went to Cervejaria Gazela for a cachorrinho. I don’t recall exactly how I found out about it (I believe by clicking on the name on Google Maps out of curiosity), but it’s a classic Portuguese bar that has cold beer and fantastic hot dogs.

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I should have known that it would be exactly the sort of unpretentious place that Tony Bourdain would also love. Right after I visited, his Porto episode of Parts Unknown aired. He’d of course been there a few months before I had. He also had gone for a francesinha, because of course he did. If there was a local gut bomb, Tony had to try it. He made a similar ode to Scottish fried foods, including haggis, in another episode. Having lived in Glasgow for two years, that’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart.

Though Anthony Bourdain’s shows would evolve over the years to become more about culture & politics than just food, it was through food that we all first got to know him. He could easily switch back and forth between Michelin-starred restaurants and Waffle Houses, treating each with the utmost respect and devotion. He taught us all that good food doesn’t have to be fancy or healthy. It’s the experience of that place and time that can make a meal. Never feel bad for enjoying something. Sometimes it’s the most simple meals that can make us happy. There’s a reason why they call it comfort food. Too many people sneer at food that they believe is “beneath them”. Anthony Bourdain was not one of them.

I have read a lot of tributes to Anthony Bourdain today. Each have summed up who he was in a different way. So far, this tweet has done it best & most succinctly.

Beyond his legacy when it comes to food and travel, Anthony Bourdain was a fighter for social progress. He often spoke out about the rights of restaurant workers, whether it was about compensation or immigration issues. He also spoke out against misogyny, abuse, & toxic masculinity. Bourdain recognized the negative impact that politics & hatred have had around the world, particularly when it comes to American imperialism & foreign policy. He tried to bridge those gaps through his shows, bring the cultures of the world to our living rooms while letting locals tell the story.

There’s a famous quote from Mark Twain that also embodies everything that Anthony Bourdain was about. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

It’s not possible for everyone to travel, whether it is due to financial reasons, physical reasons, or scheduling reasons. Through his shows, Anthony Bourdain used his privilege to bring viewers around the world, if only for an hour.

The biggest lesson that we should all remember from Anthony Bourdain is the importance of always being curious about the world around us. Try new things, try new foods, and get to know other people, whether they are your next-door neighbor or halfway around the world. Listen to people. And as you do so, don’t go in with any judgement. Don’t go in with fear. Go with respect for everyone. Travel deeper. Open your mind and your heart will follow.

While it’s impossible to not be sad that we have lost Anthony Bourdain, let’s thank him for showing us how to be better travelers and world citizens. Let’s honor him by experiencing a new cuisine or taking that trip that you’ve always wanted to take, but haven’t had the courage to pull the trigger on. Let’s talk to each other and learn from each others experiences. Let’s love each other.

Thank you, Uncle Tony. You have left us with a better world to explore.

 

If you are feeling suicidal and/or just need emotional support & want to talk someone, please reach out to someone. On the flip side, if you think family or friends may be at risk, please reach out to them to show your support. In the U.K., dial the Samaritans at 116 123. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK [8255].  For other countries, please check out this useful Wikipedia page.

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