Chow Down; on Food and Remembering Anthony Bourdain’s TV Presence

I’ve been thinking about Anthony Bourdain, whose onscreen personality exhibited boundless appetites. He was bawdy, curious, rowdy, insightful, and gastronomically insatiable. He follows in a long tradition of writers who love to eat and talk about food and places of food, and revel in the act of eating, whether alone or in company. Yes, his show was predictable in that everything he tasted was “terrific.” But it was, of course, the journey around the tasting that was delightful, and his hilarious commentary, his sometimes in-your-face contemplation of the politics of place, and his endless (and apparently endlessly funded) interest in eating anything anywhere. With gusto.

His spirit acted for me as a counterbalance to the many conversations I hear swirling around me in which people talk about what they are no longer eating. It’s not conversations about eating that I mind, it’s this culture of deprivation I fear it reveals. I wonder if the world is so much with us and beyond our control that all we have left for power is to stop eating dairy or whatever. This makes me sad, both about the state of the world and about the state of living. And I guess about the state of conversation. Much less the state of writing about eating.

We are against so many things, that is “up against” as well as “trying to say no to,” that is, fascism, racism, hatred, destruction of the environment, loss and loss and loss of things we held dear or didn’t think to hold dear until we began losing it. I do understand that taking a stand against eating meat is taking a stand toward helping the environment. I do. Oh, but a rich pot-au-feu, brown and redolent with onions and browned meat, hint of rosemary almost moldery but sweet. The brief resistance but ultimate juicy surrender of a sausage to the teeth, nip of peppercorn in the nose, indulgence of fat against the mouth’s roof. Selfish of me. Did someone say shellfish?

Many books have been written of late calling to consciousness the human eater and our affect on the environment and on the eaten. Is this line of literature replacing the gastronomic adventure tale?

It weighs on me, this being an omnivore, and hungry.

As it should.

I think of the flower in my garden that appeared suddenly, doubtless introduced by some bunny’s poop, perhaps the same bunny who chiseled off a stalk of my balloonflower, perhaps the same bunny whose haunch I found one morning, the rest of him munched by a neighborhood cat perhaps, and the hummingbird exploring that new flower, and the bug floundering around its stalk, and the carrot I’m eating, pulled from the dirt, its feathery greens useful later for soup, and the mosquito sucking from my ankle. What a world, what a world. We eat and are eaten. What are we to do?

Call me a short-sighted Epicurian dreamer but I wish for us a world where freedom is understood to be the freedom to responsibly depend — on each other the world over, on the earth and all its bounty (I’ll feed the worms if the worms will help feed me), and the freedom to be dependable, to help those in need. I hope this will allow us to taste pleasure in all its forms, in moderation, and aware of the costs. To enjoy eating again, and eat up. And talk and write about it too. With gusto. Rest in Plenty, Tony.


2 thoughts on “Chow Down; on Food and Remembering Anthony Bourdain’s TV Presence

  1. Amen to this. Tony was of course famously rude about vegetarians, but he was clearly intrigued by self-imposed deprivation as well. Two of his best shows IMO were Madagascar with a vegetarian friend and Szechuan with a chili-averse friend. I don’t think he was trying to make a didactic point either time, he just knew it would be interesting to explore each man’s discomfort as an antidote to, or palate-cleanser for, his own boundless gastronomic enthusiasm.


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