Anthony Bourdain, Allies, and Where Do We go from here (Triple participation)

Anthony Bourdain Was the Kind of ‘Bad Boy’ We Need More Of

By Sarah J. Jackson

Anthony Bourdain on New York’s Pier 57, where he was planning on building The Bourdain Market, a 100,000-square-foot food hall, in 2015.CreditCreditAlex Welsh for The New York Times

When Anthony Bourdain visited the San Francisco Bay Areain 2015 for his CNN show “Anthony Bourdain:Parts Unknown,” he made a point of sitting down for a meal with one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale. And he didn’t just talk about the food. He provided viewers an astute history of the group, its important role in the black freedom movement and the African-American community, and its suppression by the government.

I first watched that episode while at an airport waiting to board a flight, at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement had only recently entered public consciousness. Mr. Bourdain coolly narrated that the Black Panthers’ demands were “shockingly moderate: equality in education, housing, employment and basic civil rights,” an accurate statement but one that contradicts the misguided public perception of that unfairly demonized organization. I looked around at the group of mostly white Americans sharing my television screen, awed by how casually radical Mr. Bourdain’s commentary was.

Friday morning, when I heard of his death in France at age 61, I immediately rewatched that episode. I thought of how the world has lost more than a talented chef, writer and media personality. We also lost a man who brilliantly and bravely wove political education into food culture in a way that provided the kind of historical context and compassion for the oppressed that Americans need now more than ever.

In an era in which “woke” has morphed, for some, into a derisive term for those who are too earnest about injustice, Mr. Bourdain delivered this kind of insight effortlessly and without repentance. It was a secret ingredient baked into his every episode, and served to viewers whether they’d ordered it or not.


Throughout his career, Mr. Bourdain called for respect for immigrants, without whom, he never let us forget, the restaurant and agricultural industries in the United States would screech to a halt. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Bourdain did not shrink from assailingDonald Trump’s proposed wall at the Mexican border as “ludicrous and ugly,” and declaring we should be “honest about who is working in America now and who has been working in America for some time.” He arguedfor recognition of the value, creativity and labor of nonwhite and immigrant chefs, noting that it “is frankly a racist assumption that Mexican food or Indian food should be cheap.”

On both “Parts Unknown” and his earlier Travel Channel show “No Reservations,” he treated the people of the places he visited with compassion, modeling how to respect other cultures without exoticizing them. In Vietnam, a place he called one of his favorites, he offered a lesson on colonialism, war and American intervention. Likewise during episodes focused on Colombia, Iran, Cambodiaand Sri Lanka, he would marvel at the beauty, the food, the literature and the generosity of the people. Then in the next breath, he’d contextualize stereotypes Americans might have about these cultures with lessons on Western imperialism, political violence and dictatorial regimes.

He also scrutinized inequality at home. He pondered the uniquely American history of Detroit, with insights about race, migration and gentrification. He exuded genuine respect for all of the people touched by these issues, discussing their history not with pity, but with nuance. Perhaps most remarkably, he did all this while also making us laugh.

His work represented a beautiful merging of love of food with an earnest effort to listen to others, especially marginalized people. After he visited Gaza, he openly criticizedwhat he saw as the dehumanizing representation of Palestinians in the media, and proclaimed that the world was “robbing them of their basic humanity.”

Mr. Bourdain didn’t limit this inclusive and compassionate worldview to his television shows. He aligned himself with the rights of L.G.B.T. people, starring in an adin support of marriage equality for the Human Rights Campaign and signing an amicus brief by a group of food industry professionals supporting the gay couple at the center of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. He became an outspoken advocate of the Me Too movement, and an ally to women who experienced harassment and assault, forthrightly labeling Harvey Weinstein a “rapist” andsardonically calling out other powerful A-listerswho remained silent on these issues. Here, he was doing the public messy work of tackling toxic masculinity, homophobia and misogyny, which he admitted had shaped his own life and actions.

Mr. Bourdain was not just curious about food and the world. He was aware that injustice and inequality are systemic issues, and he never shied away from pointing that out. He regularly humbled himself before people very unlike him, he asked careful questions, and he listened. Before our eyes, he was always learning, and trying to make the world just a little better.

We live in a time when the simplest protests against racial injustice by athletes and celebrities are considered divisive, and when admitting imperfection while striving for righteousness and truth makes you a rebel. Perhaps that partly explains why people called the curious and empathetic Mr. Bourdain a “bad boy.” If that’s the case, let’s have more like him. May his compassion and indignation live on.

Sarah J. Jackson is an associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University and the author of “Black Celebrity, Racial Politics, and the Press.

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Why Anthony Bourdain’s Life Is a Lesson for White Men of Privilege on How to Be an Ally



The culinary world shifted when news that rock-star chef and author Anthony Bourdain died of an apparent suicide was confirmed by CNN on Friday. Bourdain defied the boundaries of his job description, transcending barriers of disparate cultures and, perhaps among his greatest feats, challenged the status quo he could have so easily chosen to thrive in.

And aside from what he contributed to the world (taking us on adventures around the globe and giving us all a front-row seat to experience the gritty underbelly of New York City’s restaurant industry through his cult-classic book Kitchen Confidential), that’s why we loved him.

In recognizing his privilege, Bourdain was able to stand up for women, marginalized communities, and even question how his own past choices lent themselves to perpetuating dangerous environments. It would have been effortless for Bourdain to adopt the worldview of men who share his status and influence. Bourdain, instead, explored worlds besieged by that power and challenged its beneficiaries to do better.

In short, Anthony Bourdain was an ally. Not in the vein of entertainers who only wear colorful ribbons at functions and retreat to their luxurious homesteads. He was one who fundamentally believed in, and fought for, people at the margins even when hashtags weren’t trending. Though he could have merely embraced the glamour of glitzy restaurants and exotic locales in his work as a culinary superstar and travel correspondent, he weaved this value system into his work.

On Latino immigration in America, Bourdain once stated: “The bald fact is that the entire restaurant industry in America would close down overnight, would never recover, if current immigration laws were enforced quickly and thoroughly across the board. Everyone in the industry knows this. It is undeniable. Illegal labor is the backbone of the service and hospitality industry—Mexican, Salvadoran and Ecuadoran in particular…. Let’s at least try to be honest when discussing this issue.”

This was in 2007, before Trump’s walls or the fervent pitch of nationalist rhetoric reached its ascendance.

Bourdain’s ideals reached beyond the food sector to industries outside of his own. When Bourdain’s girlfriend, Asia Argento, added her voice to the symphony of women whose pleas for justice against Harvey Weinstein and sexual violence were finally being acknowledged in the mainstream press, Bourdain accompanied her. “To @dkny,” he tweeted to the designer after she seemed to suggest women had a role in being sexual assault victims, “[H]ow many seventeen year olds have you dressed like they are, in your words, ‘asking for it?'”

He called out the media.

He called out Weinstein’s associates by name.

And he called out the complicity with rape culture embedded in Hollywood and society at large.

In an interview with GQ magazine, Bourdain was asked about his 2014 Parts Unknown episode on the heroin and opioid crisis. He addressed both the double standard of pharmaceutical companies who traffic in drug sales without the stigma of criminality and the sympathy afforded to small-town communities and rural whites (which policy makers and media outlets failed to extend to the largely black victims of the 1980s crack epidemic).

“Now that the white captain of the football team and his cheerleader girlfriend in small-town America are hooked on dope,” Bourdain asserted, “maybe we’ll now stop demonizing heroin as a criminal problem and start dealing with it as the medical and public-health problem that it is, and should be.”

“These pharmaceutical-company executives are dope dealers,” he added, “and they should be treated worse and more roughly than dope dealers. You’ve got some disadvantaged black kid. You’re working in a one-company town, and that company happens to be a street gang selling heroin.”

Bourdain is gone, this much is true. But as society pushes forward to answer the hard questions about what kind of world we want for the future, how inclusive and how understanding we want to be, it’s important to know that “allyship” is not something you bestow upon yourself.

It’s not your equivalent of street credibility because you went to a protest.

It is, as Bourdain showed us, the way you live your life and make room for others. It’s being inclusive and understanding without being boastful. It’s looking inward and being self-aware. And it’s never claiming it for yourself.

Bourdain describes himself on his Twitter bio simply as an “enthusiast.” May we, too, strive to use our own enthusiasm to engage, and advocate for the many people marginalized in parts unknown.



14 thoughts on “Anthony Bourdain, Allies, and Where Do We go from here (Triple participation)

  1. I used to watch Anthony Bourdain’s show and I was always intrigued on the different locations that he travelled and the different stories he told. I think it was incredible that he took the privilege he had and shared the difficulties and history of the different areas that he travelled to. Instead of just talking about food, he talked about the lives, struggles, and traditions of every place he went. I thought this article was very interesting to read to be able to understand more about the impact he had on others and the knowledge he shared with the world.


  2. Previous to this article, I had never heard of Anthony before and it is truly a sad state of events to hear about his passing especially when he was most likely a voice for many individuals that believed in movements such as his. It is important that individuals can feel they can be heard, and sadly that is not the case within many circumstances in today’s day and age. Anthony was an outlet of communication to discuss certain topics and I hope to see more members of the community stand for what they believe in.


  3. Anthony Bourdain was a great chef and had a huge influence over many people in the food industry. In the article, Anthony Bourdain was the Kind of ‘Bad Boy’ We Need More Of, Sarah J. Jackson says, “We also lost a man who brilliantly and bravely wove political education into food culture in a way that provided the kind of historical context and compassion for the oppressed that Americans need now more than ever.” A lot of people who only just knew of Anthony Bourdain as a great cook, however just like Jackson said, he was a lot more than that. He strived to correct the food industry which doesn’t treat their employers fairly. He did this by educating people on the issue. Anthony Bourdain used his privilege to help others which I think is very helpful towards the issue. It is important that people who have privilege and have a greater influence of others use that as their platform in a positive way to educate others.


  4. Before reading this article, I have never heard of Anthony Bourdain before and it’s sad to hear that he has passed. The work that he has done is truly inspiring as he recognized and valued immigrants and tried to make their life situations well known. It also inspires me that he went against the status-quo and went on his own personal path in starting to share the difficult experiences other people dealt with in the countries he travelled to. Even though he was a well-known chef, he also focused on the type of lives that in location he traveled too as well as their struggles. He educated people on a topic that most people would have difficulty talking about, and I think that shows what a great man he really was. Instead of thinking of himself in his work, he shared the experiences of others.


  5. Having little experience with Bourdain or his show I was intrigued by his social intelligence as well as compassion and respect for different cultures, their food and their countries. He should have had additional recognition for his efforts to respect other races and standing up against racism. This is difficult especially in this current social and political environment which could damage your reputation or career for not supporting the ideas of white supremacy. Also i like his reflection of race and culture and his love of their food. His philosophy should be praised and repeated so that we can help reduce acts of discrimination.


  6. I knew previously of Anthony Bourdain from my dad. From the surface, I knew Anthony Bourdain as the guy who travels to places across the globe, and explains not only the delicacies of countries foods, but also sheds light on the inequality or judgment that other countries face. Little did I know that Anthony Bourdain had advocated for those in the United States as well. He like some white celebrities had used his privileged to spread awareness of oppressed groups in America, like the meToo movement, Immigrants in the United States, L.G.B.T and the Black Panther Party. He has done so much to bring awareness to these oppressed groups while still recognizing the action he had done in the past. And from that, I commend him on his successes as a talented world traveler and as an ally.


  7. I had only watched Anthony Bourdians show a few times but I know that he was a huge spokesperson for people around the world that don’t have a voice. I also didn’t know he had passed away until now and that is a huge loss for people around the world that he shared moments with and for the people he had given a voice to. He opened up many peoples eyes not only to the food but as well as the culture of these countries he visited. He knew he could just talk about food and he would still get views because he is such a famous chef but he used his platform to talk about bigger issues then just food and that is very inspirational.


  8. Anthony Bourdain was as real as it gets. I remember switching the channels one day and I saw food and stayed on that channel, after that day I was hooked to his show because of how open mouth he was. He would curse a lot, and his style of telling us about food and industry was different from most. I would always wonder why he was never on the Food Network and when I did research it turned out to be because of what he stood up for and how food network did not want to be represented by him because of that. Food Network gave us this false belief about the restaraunt industry and how fun and beautiful it is, while Anthony straight up told us in his shows and books how much it sucked and unfair the industry is to many people of walks of life. He was really liked in the Hispanic and Asian community for always giving them a voice in terms of the restaraunt industry. What sucks the most is that now that he is gone, not many thought and presented things like him so who will stand up for these people?


  9. Rest in piece to an amazing spokesman, one of my grandmas favorite people to watch. She is a big fan of Anthonys show, so was my dad, who loves to cook reading this article actually saddens me because It gave me a nostalgia feel. Until I realized he actually passed away, but I thank him for being a voice for other and giving us room to have discussions of why white man can be an ally in suing there voice to combat and speak up for disparities happening in all forms, Anthony was great at doing so, he should appreciation to different cultures through the food that he ate, he showed what it is to be socially couscous and aware of white privilege as a white man placed In a automatic good position when it comes to the state of society. This man did his job in doing so and it is something that should be continued. So many others that are famous are given this same opportunity to turn there legacy into an inspiration like he did yet they haven’t but the more his philosophy Is kept alive the more people know that his spirit won’t die


  10. This being the first time I’ve heard of Anthony Bourdain truly saddens me. I feel that having as much respect for different cultures, as he did definitely deserves more recognition than he got. Although It can be difficult to talk about certain subjects, he used his work place, to educate people on topics most people wouldn’t.


  11. I knew I had to do this Participation because I used to watch Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” on the travel channel all the time; his mindset and careless attitude on what you thought of his opinion made him a joy to watch. He didn’t just discuss food he would eat, but portray a message and use his platform to convey messages. I didn’t personally watch the episode when he incorporated a Black panther theme but the way he taught so many naive individuals on a group who is widely misinterpreted and that means so much to not only me but so many others all around the world. the ability to teach others information in a manner like Bourdain did is such an imperative skill in the world today: the world is full of so much hatred because of they fear what they don’t know and the only way to get over stereotypes is to teach others and Anthony Bourdain exemplified that so well and it is a tragedy we lost a legend like him.


  12. I think Anthony Bourdain’s dedication to promoting food that has been “otherized or exocitized” without crossing the line of culture appropriation; has set a trend on where people eat and I think people are starting to pay attention to who owns a restaurant. I remember during of 2017, a lot of restaurants in Portland were called out for profiting off other cultures recipes and food and a list was created so people would know which restaurants not to support ( As the article and Bourdain argued, privileged groups shouldn’t be able to any profits making food from a culture they don’t belong to; they can be appreciated and people should learn about them and respect them but they should never try to take them over or attempt to make them “their own”, when it is clearly going to be stolen from someone else.

    While reading this article, I began thinking of a show I watched that had a similar mission to Anthony Bourdain’s- promote food that have been “otherized or exocitized”. Over the summer, my partner and I watched every season of MasterChef and one thing I always noticed was that the white judges always called Asian, Latin American or Caribbean/African food inferior- they didn’t specifically use the word inferior, but they would make statements that dishes from those communities couldn’t be elevated high enough to ever be considered fine dining. I found this interesting because prior to summer 2018 (and watching all those Master Chef videos), the Netflix show Ugly Delicious premiered in spring 2018.

    The show Ugly Delicious like, Bourdain’s episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, tries to explore the cultural and historical of various types of food- my favorite episode discusses soul food, specifically how fried chicken was racialized in the movie Birth of a Nation and led to one chef’s refusal to eat chicken for fear of stereotype threat (aka didn’t want to feed into the stereotypes that had been placed on them). The show also explores how bullying and the othering of food as a child dumbfounded chefs of color because food that they were once mocked for and that was deemed gross is now popular and being appropriated for the masses because people now find it delicious or trendy. I found an article which discusses Ugly Delicious ( and how the show is trying to make the viewers learn the history and culture behind food, while also trying to make the communities who own/created the food/recipes proud of their culture instead of the usual shaming and ostracization we’ve seen towards food that was previously deemed “weird, ethnic, or exotic”. I think Anthony Bourdain’s idea to promote other cultures and learn about them without taking them on as your own, has clearly influenced other people in the food industry. In June of 2018 when Bourdain passed ; the show Ugly Delicious had already premiered and was popular, so the effect of getting people to understand the cultural background behind food was already set in motion. I don’t think other articles or shows would exist if Bourdain hadn’t influenced people to understand the cultural weight of food.

    Extra articles:


  13. I really love what he has done with the power he possesses. He understands that he is a central point in his own series and that millions are watching him. He understands that he is a privileged White man, but even then so, he uses this point of power to address minority culture, and to give them a spotlight when it comes to cuisine and other aspects of culture. From as far as I can remember, he would never insult the difference of food, no matter how polar opposite it was from the custom way of eating in more “modern” based food. He is always accepting these unique varieties of food with an open mind, and as an opportunity to highlight the traditional foods that may not have been given the cultural recognition it deserves.

    Rest in peace to a legend.


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