we tell people, this is in our hand. It’s in our hand.
our future. And the future of the next generation coming.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Senegal
The “children” are at it
again. In the United States, we have politicians and civic-minded
leaders, following the news cycle, spending their time distinguishing
for the American public the “good guys” from the “bad
guys.” Full-grown men, usually. At least, they appear to be
adults. “Bad guys” are rarely within the US borders -
and when they are, we all know who those “bad”
ones are in need of deportation! Separate
the children, first!
It was as if I had lost a good
friend. A true adult. Someone who, if you are a person of color in
this country, you didn’t have to bite-your-tongue, my
grandmother would have said. Anthony Bourdain was someone who knows,
and your silence at the table wouldn’t be required in order to
appear civil. At some point, back
then, I imagined that hypothetical lunch with Bourdain in which I
wouldn’t feel as if I were the “minority” at the
So when asked to speculate on what
might have driven author, TV chef, travel documentarian Anthony
Bourdain to commit suicide, June 8, 2018, Patrick Radden Keefe, the
author of “Anthony Bourdain’s Moveable Feast” for
the New Yorker in February of
2017, refers to Bourdain’s “dark side.” I’m
stopped in my tracks. What? Right! Here goes the spin. The message to
the American public.
I alternate between watching a tribute online or listening to
commentaries on the local Wisconsin radio broadcasts, I think about
all the world of people, that is, those in Paris, Rome, Senegal,
Ghana, Tokyo, Vietnam, and many many rural locations as well, and who
are, too, still in shock, listening to American media personalities,
including those at CNN, refer to a man with “demons” with
a “dark side!”
the American public in a Star Wars haze!
The corporate bosses as well as the corporate advertisers are kept
happy. Keep the American public sedated with the image of the “bad
guy” within. It’s all so personal - Bourdain’s
“demons,” his “dark side.” This justification
of why he committed suicide plays well with commentators (and their
corporate bosses) and guest appearance of experts on mental health
(often linked with Big Pharma) - particular since Bourdain’s
death follows the June 7, 2018 Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) report that announced a 25% increase in suicides,
the highest since 1999.
to Amy Nutt, correspondent with the Washington Post,
however, the increase in suicides, across age, gender, race, and
ethnicity, can’t be attributed solely to mental health issues.
“In more than half of all deaths in 27 states, the people had
no known mental health condition when they ended their lives.”
yet, it persisted late into the night: poor Anthony Bourdain, a
victim of the “bad guy” within! American
public, there was something wrong with Anthony Bourdain!
are the celebrity media personalities afraid of? In the case of
Anthony Bourdain, these commentators are dodging the national
conversation that would ensue if they asked why Bourdain committed
suicide. Why, if mental illness? Why, if a return to substance abuse?
If neither, what then?
are they afraid of?
don’t remember when I first took note of Anthony Bourdain. I’m
not much of a cook, and I haven’t owned a television in years.
But I watched online episodes of No Reservation (2005-2012)
and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, on
CNN. Dave Davies
(Fresh Air, NPR) interviewed
Bourdain as did astrophysicist, Neil Degrasse Tyson. I try to keep up
with Star Talk online,
so I viewed the episode featuring a female PhD nutritionist and
Anthony Bourdain. I was impressed with Bourdain from the beginning.
Bourdain didn’t just cook and eat, he was outspoken about
anything and everything - because anything and everything is, he
understood, political. And food is political, he acknowledged on
several occasions. Whether or not communities have food or not. How
food is produced and shipped. Who gets what cut of the animal, what
delicate treat? And is there waste in a world where millions live in
is still “hand made” in many communities around the
as an art form interested Bourdain who traveled to communities poor
economically but rich in creativity! The food is as “hand made”
as the bowl it’s served in. The cloth woven by the community’s
weavers and worn by everyone sitting around where a mat on the ground
is as meaningful as the music played by musicians with striking or
strumming handmade instruments. Food may not be in abundance but, as
Bourdain found, the cordiality and the ambiance of good spirit was
brings people together! No matter where anyone stood on the social
ladder. There’s no in or
what or who are “immigrants”? Other people who are more
similar than dissimilar, Bourdain asked, as he talked about “willful
ignorance” of those calling the shots.
a long time, Bourdain said, the drug problem was a “them”
problem, and white America isn’t the “them” but
“the good.” The problem of drugs has come home to roost.
The blinders have been removed, one addiction and one death at a
time. One devastated community at a time. There was never a “war
on drugs,” said Bourdain. Never a “them” and “us.”
The enemy was neither black or brown citizens nor immigrants, but
American values: Get rich and don’t give a damn how you do it
or who you might hurt in the process.
he travels to West Virginia, he’s angered at finding small
communities “flooded” with “highly addictive
drugs.” In his memoir and in subsequent interviews, Bourdain
admits to heavy substance abuse, including an addiction to heroin
(See Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.) and Britt Collins interview with him about family values.
He also believes he’s responsible for the death of at least one
Colombian (his unsolicited speculation) because of his own abuse of
drugs. So understanding the devastation of drug abuse, he called what
he witnessed in West Virginia “outrageous” if not
“criminal” - and he wasn’t referring to the
individuals - but to Big Pharma, and, in particular the politicians
who facilitate this industry and celebrity media personalities who
faun at their feet. Look to who permits Big Pharma to profit on the
misery and suffering of human beings!
another episode featuring Opioid use in Massachusetts, he calls out
Big Pharma’s foot soldiers: doctors. He’s not hesitant,
however, to point out the places were he popped pills and f____
women, as if the abusive use of drugs and the misuse of women, were
also packaged by yet another American industry. And why not?
before the #MeToo movement, Bourdain had come to understand that if
one can’t respect more than half the human population then that
individual respects no one - including himself. He openly stood by
his assistant, Asia Argento, when she accused a powerful movie mogul,
Harvey Weinstein, of sexually abusing her. The movement, Bourdain
added, was a “real reckoning” for men. For America.
several interviews, he was forthcoming about his own complicity in
ignorance. In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain
says he “romanticized a culture that was not good for
everybody. I validated a bunch of knuckleheads.” Eventually, he
asked himself, to what extent was he, as a writer and TV producer,
“complicit” in perpetuating abuse toward women?
love, democracy, equality, justice - these are ideas that just
doesn’t materialize because a human born on this soil is
certified an American!
one asked Bourdain to be so self-reflective in a five-second sound
bite. And yet, he did reflect on the role he might have played,
unwittingly, in contradicting his own principles toward achieving a
justice and equitable world for all.
as for the slaughter of animals for consumption…
wasn’t not boastful. Macho. Here again he admitted to finding
it difficult the first time he’s asked to slaughter a pig. The
second time, he says, he was even more surprised to find how it was
easier for him to pick up the knife and start cutting. He had become
viewing this episode could understand in telling this story, just how
we are all implicated in rituals of cruelty, barbarity. How far is
indifference to the plight of animals from indifference to the rights
of human beings seeking a means to survive, to provide a home, food
and water for their families and community? Despite our best
intentions as individuals, Bourdain
shows us, we’re in need of a global community of women, the
primary planters and feeders, coming to the table - and turning it
Hanoi, Vietnam, Bourdain watches as Obama, surrounded by secret
service and waving Vietnamese, exits the airport. Bourdain has a
place in mind, a neighborhood joint. A regular place. Tables without
table clothes. Beer is served alone with a tradition dish of pork and
fish and veggies. Obama shouldn’t have a problem paying for his
meal, says Bourdain. It’ll cost all of six dollars!
Obama arrives, Bourdain is on a large cruiser with an old friend and
the friend’s grown son now. The three men sit at the bar and
have gin and tonic. The young adult son, looks admiringly at
you remember when we first saw each other?
were five, Bourdain responses.
was five, says the young man, as he holds up his cell phone with a
photo of Bourdain and his five-year old self.
I see a man, naturally at easy with people. Naturally able to connect
with people. He loyal. He returns. The young man is grateful.
is at least familiar with Asian food, having lived in Jakarta when he
was a child. Bourdain nods. But what about Americans? We’re
turning “inward,” Bourdain tells him. Americans are
talking about “building walls around our country.”
it’s Obama. So no real adult-like conversation will be had
a father of a young girl, is this all going to be okay?” he
asks. Will my daughter be able to come here or go anywhere without
encountering walls, enemy territories, corporate missiles?
Bourdain’s voice over reminds us about General Westmoreland.
Some of us remember him. The US general for a time during the Vietnam
War. He spoke of the Vietnamese as being less than human. After all,
Vietnamese don’t value life. It’s a “grotesque
observation,” said Bourdain.
if you are black and live in America and you hear an echo. You’ve
heard this grotesque observation before. Africans, the philosopher
Hegel, proclaimed in his Phenomenology of the Spirit,
aren’t human. Don’t
value life, as a result. So, let’s not worry about the history
of Africa or its people. There’s no such thing!
of my favorite episode of Parts Unknown is
Bourdain and crews travel to Senegal. Just over 90 percent Muslim,
Bourdain whose maternal side was Jewish, appeared right at
home. In Senegal, Bourdain ate
the traditional dish of fish (particular to the region) and
vegetables (and I’ve lived in Ethiopia for a year and couldn’t
eat everything such as the goat, for example) just as he ate Foie
Gras in France or Sushi in Japan.
Senegal, Bourdain sits at the table of a two families from different
classes, two musicians, one world older and world famous, the other a
young rapper, and there’s no need for him to expound on what we
see. Food brings everyone together. And no matter what village anyone
is from, how much French blood to African blood, no matter -
everyone is part of the community because everyone is Senegalese.
Everyone is at home.
Senegalese spoke of a vision, in which a “better world”
comes to the fore once more cultures have a seat at the table. The
young rapper/activist spoke of how the young organize the country
is great,’” the adults say, but to “leave it in the
hands of God,” as some say “when they think there’s
no solution,” isn’t the answer.
generation has it’s mission.”
in the voice over, Bourdain: As good as it’s been for Senegal,
“democracy, as it turns out, requires regular maintenance.
Diligence is needed. And the willingness to stand up.”
is home to all
humanity. It’s the “place we all come from and where we
are going.” Me, you, viewer, we in America, need to remember
this, Bourdain adds.
I’m remember how a Senegalese talked about Taranga values.
“It’s not how much you have but how much you give.”
leaving Senegal, and Bourdain mentions his newest tattoo. “I’m
certain of nothing.” That’s what it reads. Because it’s
all clear and straight roads. Sunny days and blue skies. But we have
each other. Human beings have each other. From each other we learn
and learn to share and we do so by traveling. Going around the world,
we always come back to ourselves. Ad we grow a notch every meal and
story we share among ourselves. Travel, Bourdain says in the voice
over, is an “endless learning curve.” It’s all
about the “joy of being wrong, of being confused.” It’s
okay. We’re home, among family.
certain of nothing.”
the arrogant are otherwise.
wasn’t anything wrong with Bourdain! He was reflective. Honest.
Maybe too honest. But Bourdain was 61 when he died. No child. No
reason to act like a child. Think like a child. What’s “dark”
or “demonic” when he woke up and recognized America’s
“innocence” as all funk? And not the good kind, either!
was unique, sad to say. As a white man, he was unique! He showed
white America what it could become, if it tried to turn from “bad
guys” to “good guys,” from hate to love.
if America had loved him, the love of his life wouldn’t have