I had never heard of Anthony Bourdain until this past week when I began watching the coverage of his death by suicide. I was immediately drawn in, fascinated by who he was and what he did. I read several articles about him and watched two CNN specials back to back. One was the last episode of his television program “Parts Unknown”. The other was a commentary on his life and work by the journalists who worked closely with him. CNN describes his show this way: “Bourdain brought the world home to CNN viewers. Through the simple act of sharing meals, he showcased both the extraordinary diversity of cultures and cuisines, yet how much we all have in common.”
Basically, he traveled the world asking people three questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? And what do you like to cook? Then he sat, ate, talked, and listened. As I watched numerous clips from his show, what struck me was the genuineness of his interest in the people he was with and his genuine enjoyment of the food they had prepared for him. The only phrase I can think of to describe what he was doing is this: He was entering in. Entering in to their culture, entering in to their lives, and entering in to their pleasures.
That’s how I want to be with people. I want to get close. I want to enter in.
And those three questions. They intrigue me. They are unusual questions for a journalist to lead with, aren’t they? They are so intimately personal. Not, “What kinds of foods are native to your culture?” But “What do YOU like to cook?” You. The individual I am talking to right now. Not your neighbor. You.
This also got me thinking about food. Cooking. Sharing meals. So much of the eating I do falls under the category of necessary evils. I’m hungry and in a hurry. I grab what’s quick. I grab what’s there. I joke that good food is wasted on me because I enjoy Taco Bell as much as I enjoy the authentic Mexican cuisine served at Hermanos restaurant in my home town. And Taco Bell is cheap and fast, so… But is that really true? Do I really enjoy a burrito supreme as much as I enjoy homemade guacamole from a family recipe? No. I do not. I eat too fast. I wolf things down. I do not savor. And that’s no way to eat. No way to live. Watching those programs made me want to slow down, chew and swallow consecutively not simultaneously for a change. Pay more attention.
And then this business of sharing meals, experiencing meals with people. Bourdain sought out places that were truly foreign, particularly to American viewers. Foreign in every sense of the word: Mysterious. Suspect. Dangerously Other. He sat, ate, and savored; talked little, listened more, and made himself very much at home. I’m not sure how Bourdain would feel about this comparison, but I could not help thinking of Jesus and the way he shared meals with people. I had never thought about this before, but snapshots from the four gospels flooded into my mind as I watched these programs. Jesus eating with the outcasts, sitting in their homes, appreciating their hospitality, enjoying their food and their company: lepers, extortioners, prostitutes and sinners. Jesus, making a point by his presence, humanizing them, accepting them, silently rebuking those who kept their distance out of ignorance and fear. Jesus, on the beach cooking fresh-caught fish over an open fire, making breakfast for his disciples.
When a life ends abruptly and tragically, it provokes thought. And I have been thinking about Bourdain and his three questions all week. I am going to keep thinking about them until I am satisfied that I can answer them truthfully and well. Also, I am going to pay more attention, eat more slowly, cook more intentionally, savor everything.