Read the 1999 Anthony Bourdain essay that started it all


#22

I’m glad you bring that up, because I’m a member of several different subgroups of people for whom it is still entirely acceptable and even “ethical/moral” to say bigoted things about, vegetarianism being one of those categories.

My guess is that he’d be the first to say he had feet of clay, so I’m not going to get bent out of shape about this issue, but the fact that his death means millions more people will probably read that article for the first time and nod knowingly at his derogatory comments about people like me and thee is not a pleasant thought.


#23

As I said, I’m not blaming him, at least not personally.

This text is old. And, at least for me as a European, written from the alien US-american perspective.

That other people now read this and feel strengthened in their biases towards vegetarians, vegans, Hindus, Muslims, Jews or whatever group with restrictions in their diet is sad, but we can’t do much about it - except pointing out politely that it’s none of their business as long as it doesn’t hurt them in any way.


#24

Over the years he’s added some perspective to his seeming disdain for what one would describe as militant/rigid vegans and vegetarians. In the talk I mentioned above he put some context to it thusly:
Huge portions of the non-wealthy, non-western world contain people who are vegetarian most of the time not by choice. It’s by consequence of their lot in life. If one travels most of the western world, large cities, etc… sitting down and asking for non-meat dishes is not an issue.
However - and I’ll paraphrase - “If one were to travel to a small village somewhere and by the grace of whatever god they believe in they were able to come by some chicken or pork or whatever and they generously made a lovely bowl of soup for you out of it and you turn it down because of your rigidity - fuck off.”
FTR, I am not vegetarian, but it is my own personal belief we should eat less meat, we should work hard to rid the world of factory farming and should treat animals raised for food with respect. I also personally have committed to doing my best to at a minimum eat 2/3’s of my meals sans meat. And my wife and I shoot for more than that by having vegetarian dinners, etc…
The chances of me being all the way vegetarian is slim, but the chances of me being vegan are none because I love cheese too much.


#25


#26

Yeah, I’d assume that the Presidential Security Detail alerted them to who at least one of the two wealthy westerners was.


#27

A relative did a business trip to Bulgaria shortly after that nation got out from under the Iron Curtain. He was going vegetarian at the time, but, when the people he was staying with told him the trouble they’d gone to to source a pig to feed his as an honoured guest, it would have been awkwardly insulting to turn up his nose at it.

His wife had a similar though different issue, on a visit to Germany. She and her travelling companion had a real issue convincing people serving them that they really did not want meat… and that Speck (diced pork fat) is not actually a suitable garnish for a nice vegetable salad.


#28

I always felt like Bourdain mocked vegetarianism just for laughs. Probably doesn’t make it any less insulting, but I don’t think he seriously disliked them. I think it was just part of his schtick.


#29

It does seem to a very weird and abusive working environment; with the abuse being somehow formalized and legitimized, like hazing, as a rite of passage.

Personally, I think its a good idea for kitchens to be visible to the customers to dissuade this sort of behaviour and to encourage people to realise that, while your hors d’oeuvre might take a bit longer to make than you might like, no one is going to be driven to kill themselves by bullying over getting to you “on time”.

But then, I’m not a big fan of fancy eating and prefer places where they make a big pot of stuff and dole it out when requested.


#30
  1. I know for a fact I’m not the only Westerner who became vegetarian due to poverty;

  2. Most Buddhist sects already include the idea that the intent of the person offering the food is a crucial element;

  3. When traveling in poor areas, it’s better to let people know in advance that you won’t eat any meat if they serve it, so that they won’t go broke buying it to show their hospitality, which is a big deal in most cultures.

There are a lot of complexities to eating in other cultures. Rigidity seems to start to happen as income increases. The new middle class in China show their status by consuming meat, for example, in a way their parents’ generation never did. The fancier restaurants in most countries stick their noses up against the local peasant diet. But the reality is that the U.S. is unique in having a heavily-meat-concentrated diet be what poor people eat. That’s why it seems like only the economically privileged can afford to be vegetarian. The rest of the world is very different. And sitting on a plastic stool in a foreign country eating cheap food with the President of the U.S. with a camera crew filming is not really how most people eat when they travel, especially if they’re visiting people in their homes.


#31

I myself consider myself an opportunistic vegetarian though i suppose these days the trendy term is Flexitarian. Up to my own devices my preference is to eat vegetarian (i don’t buy meat to cook at home), but when staying at someone’s home i don’t even bring up the fact that i’m vegetarian because because in my experience even when telling the host you don’t eat meat well in advance they can often times be at a loss on what to make you and it causes more anxiety and drama than is necessary. When someone makes you a meal they are already being thoughtful and kind, to tell them to cook something that’s not typically in their wheelhouse to me has caused more problems than not unless that person already knows how to cook good vegetarian food.

Additionally when i’m out about about and ordering food from businesses i find that the vegetarian plates are a scam. They’re either too simple or grossly overpriced so i end up just ordering something with animal protein in it.


#32

I’m pretty sure his expressed animosity toward the evangelical variety of vegetarian, especially vegans, was real. This animosity is not uncommon, and can often be directed at people who don’t even make it the first thing you learn about a person (cue stupid joke about knowing if someone is vegan). It’s the background noise of my life when I eventually have to tell new people that I don’t eat the cow, the bird, the snake, the alligator, the pig, etc*. I guess I didn’t really hold it against him, because I’ve run into that angst over what I don’t eat so often, even from people I genuinely like. And I did like his shows, which is weird, because I loathe nearly everything about the food-themed channels. In his more recent shows, it really seemed he was reserving judgement about culinary choices people make as he was making what seemed to be an honest effort to learn more about various cultures. If you hold on to your old prejudices, you can’t be open to learning what makes a new-to-you culture tick.

*I stopped eating all critters when I was 11. Eventually, I was able to add the occasional fish into my diet. But if someone slips a land animal product into something I’m eating, I will be very ill by the next morning, at the latest. I just don’t have the gut flora to digest it anymore.


#33

Unlike most celebrities, he showed at least some of his complexities, damage and contradictions to the world. Not only did he not try to project an image of wholesome, untroubled perfection, his inability to do that was an integral part of his public persona. More like a rock star than any other kind of celebrity. Maybe I’m just gullible, but it seems to me the public and private Bourdain were probably very similar, the public version only slightly exaggerated for entertainment purposes. Reading the comments on Pete Wells’ NYT piece on Bourdain, I found myself agreeing with most of them – from the effusive to the disdainful.

At times I found him a little annoying, a little overexposed, a little over-the-top in his contempt for strident vegetarians, a little too stereotypical-no-bullshit-New Yorker (which could just mean he was New Jersey to the bone? I don’t know NJ well enough). And even as a depressive person I have trouble imagining the depths of despair that would prompt him to abandon his child this way, though I don’t go so far as to hate him for it.

But he also seemed to be a fundamentally good person. He was a very good writer and an insightful commentator. His open-mindedness was a breath of fresh air, as was his willingness to include less than pleasant incidents in his shows.

He did that from the beginning… in an early episode of A Cook’s Tour, he arranges for a dinner of the classic Russian fish pie, koulibiac, a banquet dish fit for czars and Party chairmen. Either somebody messed up or had a stroke of genius, because he wound up not at an interesting dinner party of Muscovites enjoying a fine koulibiac washed down with the best Georgian sparkling wine, but alone in a barely-post-Soviet kitchen trying to gag down a very unappealing and not-at-all-post-Soviet version of the dish.

Maybe the scene simply reflected the fact that he was still a relative unknown, without the clout to get virtually anyone on his show, but I don’t think he ever really lost the willingness to show the things that didn’t go right.

He probably taught at least a little something to anyone who was paying attention. Or maybe he just entertained them, or in the case of vegetarians infuriated them. He was good at both of those things too.

I’ll miss him.


#34

Just 2cts:

Been there. That is: ppl in very remote places, like deep in Malagasy rain forest, sharing the best of their meal with me. Bantam feet. Even harder: close friends of mine, same trip, deep in Malagasy spiny forest: a goats intestine, warm an fresh from the kill.

You don’t reject this. But as a vegetarian, you can only try to do your best - people will notice that you don’t like it. Leads to the weirdest situation, because no-one wants to loose their face. I realised later that fady could have been a way not to loose my face. White lies are ok, methinks.

I later politely refused on “religious” grounds in West Africa, on some occasions, but usually just tried the stuff I could manage to eat. It isn’t that I don’t like to eat animals. It’s just that I try not to eat them, and did successfully so in usual circumstances for nearly two decades now.

BTW, I still am a bit saddened by the loss of not having tried teemite alates and the West African equivalent of the mopane worm… I simply didn’t have the culinary courage and doubted my stomach would take it. Since I’ve been working deadlines since about 25 years now, I didn’t want to risk the latter…


#35

I can’t afford to. If I could, I would be a fan of hight culinary quality. The “fancy” part I’m no fan of - I don’t care about which knife to use much. But I can taste the difference between a nosing glass and a tumbler, and even though statistics show otherwise I feel different wines should have different glasses. Same is true for different ways of preparing food - and “fancy” restaurants often can do the stuff properly. The main reason I like up-scale stuff, however, is that the food is non-standard. Basically everywhere in the Westpalaearctic realm you get standards in usual restaurants. There are two ways to find something different: go up-scale or find the family-run business where people really care about food. The latter is my favourite, but finding it without local knowledge is difficult. Upscale has the guides. I can find an upscale thingy ever time.


#36

I’m envious of your epicurean senses. I think that, like with many things, I miss the nuance in a lot of cooking. I’ll stick to my curries (tuned for flavour rather than outright heat), and wish you all the best in securing a dream job, mystery shopping for Michelin.


#37

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