Anthony Bourdain is being mourned, of course, by fellow chefs and foodies for his sardonic exposés about what really happens in the kitchens of some of America’s best restaurants. And for his travels to explore the world’s cuisines. But communities of color, women, people who are gender-different from the perceived norm — those people sent heartbroken tributes, too.
The chef, food and travel writer and humanitarian was found dead on Friday while with a production crew on a shoot in France for one of his food travelogues. The cause of death was suicide.
“If you’re from a marginalized, dehumanized community, you know what Anthony Bourdain meant,” tweeted Mohammad Alsaafin. “To Palestinians, Iranians, Libyans, undocumented immigrants in the US, abused women…what a loss.”
What a loss indeed. Food historian Michael W. Twitty won a coveted James Beard award earlier this spring for The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South. He wrote on Twitter, “For a Black man that has walked the plank for being highly critical of the food world so white, #Anthony Bourdain was special. He called Africa the cradle of civilization, took his cameras to Haiti, honored t he hood with Snoop, broke bread with Obama like a human being…”
Obama and Bourdain met when both were traveling in Southeast Asia to share bowls of bun cha, a North Vietnamese specialty of spicy pork patties with noodles in a garlicky broth. The people in the restaurant—once they got over their shock at seeing the leader of the free world happily slurping noodles at a nearby table — clearly loved that Obama was eating and enjoying their food.
“This is killer,” Obama told Bourdain, as he dove in for more. Food writer Andrea Nguyen, whose cookbook on the Vietnamese national soup, Pho, also earned a James Beard award this year, tweeted after that memorable dinner, that the table at which the president and Bourdain dined “was encased like a museum piece at the restaurant.” Bourdain, she said “did much for overlooked causes and cuisines, including that of Vietnam. RIP anh [brother] Tony.”
Humanizing Muslims and Arabs …
Bourdain saw food as not just sustenance — although sustenance was important — but as a way to convey a message of acceptance, respect, comfort. Parts Unknown got an award from MPAC (the Muslim Public Affairs Council) for its episode on Israel and Palestine. In his acceptance speech, made by video, Bourdain said, “The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity.”
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