Love Letters to Humanity
Since I discovered his multiple books and TV shows, Anthony Bourdain has been an inspiring figure for me. This inspiration went beyond the fascinating places he traveled to and the delicious-looking food he ate. It was the way he approached those locations and the way he approached the food. He explained this best when he observed that while he “always cared about what was cooking, he was more interested in who was cooking, why they were cooking, and what they have to say.”
Anthony Bourdain approached every city, town, and farmhouse he visited not looking for the next Emmy-winning shot, but for the story that each of these places, and the food prepared there, had to tell. Through the lens of his camera, and through the lens of Anthony Bourdain himself, places to which I may never get a chance to travel came into my living room. They were never presented as foreign lands. Instead, they were presented as homes. The shared humanity of each person he met, from the street vender in Vietnam to the President of the United States, was the focus of every story Anthony Bourdain told. This, above all else, is what made him so great, and made the stories he told so captivating. At the heart of each story lies a common humanity; a humanity that could be recognized even in the most exotic of places. Everything he produced––be it a tv show, a book, or an essay––was in its own way a love letter to humanity. Anthony Bourdain’s love for all of mankind poured forth from everything he made.
From this love came his incredible ability to make the unfamiliar familiar. Many of the places that Anthony Bourdain visited over the course of his shows also featured regularly on the nightly news: Libya, Iran, Israel, Palestine, China, Russia. The conflicts and political drama that define these places for so many could have dominated their respective episodes. But they never did. While Anthony Bourdain never shied away from delving into sensitive political topics, they never overshadowed the human element. We met Israeli settlers and Palestinian refugees, and saw each as they see themselves. We met Iranians in the heart of a country that is a sworn enemy of America and came to know them as individuals, greater and more important than the regime that rules over them. In Vietnam we met veterans of our protracted war and were forced to come to terms with the human cost of the conflict, without the episode ever becoming dominated by politics. Even in the most politically charged environments, he always made sure that it was the human that carried the day. What kept these episodes focused on the human was Bourdain’s love for the people he met, in all their wonderous diversity.
It was this love that inspired me and so many others to try to see the world the way Anthony Bourdain saw it, the way he showed it to us––to find the stories. That was how Anthony Bourdain defined his vocation, he was a storyteller. And I will miss the stories he spun.