Why Anthony Bourdain’s Suicide is Not ‘Simply One other Superstar Loss of life’
We don’t often share personal anecdotes, opinions, or narrative stories on Our Tasty Travels that are not directly related to a food or wine/beer travel experience, but I feel that in light of Anthony Bourdain’s passing, this was an appropriate time to deviate a little.
When I was searching for a blog post title, I struggled to summarize where I imagined this post going in my head. Today, I saw two Facebook posts that bothered me a bit. They referenced Bourdain’s passing as just another celebrity suicide. And, one went so far as to say Bourdain contributed nothing to society (in comparison to someone who once served in the military). And, I agree that military suicides are not addressed or publicized enough, but celebrity or not, Bourdain was still a human being. He had family, he had friends, and whether or not his face ever graced our television screens, his death impacted people — including me.
You were a great inspiration to all of us that are restaurant owners, executive chefs, waiters, runners, dishwashers, bartenders, mixologists, hosts, and the list goes on. — Finn Halliday, Owner Finn & Martini, Belize
The word influencer is constantly thrown around in the blogging and social media worlds. Some people truly do have influence, while others I have to wonder what their influence will be in five or ten years if Instagram loses popularity or someone more hip comes along. For me, Bourdain is and was the definition of an influencer. He influenced chefs, food service, journalism, television, and helped launch a global interest in food travel. And, based on the Facebook posts I saw following his death, I am not alone. So many of my friends, colleagues, and chefs posted beautifully written tributes, talking about how Bourdain’s writing and travel inspired their careers, or they talked about personal experiences when they met him.
When we first got into blogging full time nearly a decade ago, food travel was not that popular nor widely understood.
Wait, you want to travel to go eat at fancy restaurants?
Why would you fly halfway around the world to eat at a street market?
You want to take a cooking class on your vacation rather than go hike a mountain?
People thought we were crazy, and they didn’t necessarily get it. It was around that same time I met someone in Hong Kong who flew around the world to eat at every Michelin 3-Star restaurant in the world that year! It was crazy, but it was also really cool to meet someone that passionate about food.
Shortly thereafter, we traveled halfway around the world to our first travel blogging conference. The conference had breakout sessions for different niches like adventure travel, luxury, budget, and there was even one for food travel! The food travel one garnered the lowest attendance of any of the sessions, and the only person I can vividly remember being there was Jodi Ettenberg, who runs Legal Nomads. Former lawyer turned global food traveler, her blog exploded in popularity in subsequent years. Today, she’s a household name in the blogging world, and much-needed resource for travelers who struggle with celiac disease. She created a brand that reassured people with food allergies and serious conditions like celiac disease that yes, even you can still travel the world, eat amazing foods, and not be in misery from the experience.
As the blogging and food travel industries were suddenly booming, Anthony Bourdain was a central figure who guided many of us on our journey of “where to next?” But, it was his storytelling abilities that challenged us to do more than just travel, eat, write, repeat. He reinforced the need to open our minds to new cultures and ways of doing things, and to appreciate the backstory on a popular dish or why a specific ingredient was important. He taught us about patience, overcoming obstacles, and how to break out of your own comfort zone.
This was during a time where many experts warned against using a curse word on your blog for fear of potentially alienating a future sponsor and where many writers all used the same ‘travelese’ to describe a destination. Today, these are the terms that make many of us cringe — land of contrasts, hidden gem, majestic scenery, etc. Never highlight the bad, focus on the good.
In a world where some influencers attempt to mislead viewers and readers by not disclosing paid sponsorships, authentic blogging is changing the blogosphere. Whether it’s standing up against a practice you disagree with, talking about the ugly side of travel, weaving political unrest into travel writing, being honest about getting robbed in a destination, etc., you see more transparency from many writers in recent years. I’d like to think we all grew up at least a little as the industry grew. Ten years ago, someone might have hopped on an elephant and not given it a second thought, but now a colleague might step up and say, ‘yes, I did it, but I have since learned why it’s so bad, and here are the reasons you shouldn’t support this cruel practice either.’ Many years ago, I remember being served shark fin soup on a press trip, and ordering bird’s nest dessert on another trip. Today, I would be more vocal about the issues with these foods because I am better educated and more well-traveled.
Bourdain was already practicing this way of writing and was the king of no-filter storytelling. He lived by his outspoken mantra long before it was deemed acceptable in the industry. He was such a powerful voice that he could talk about the most seedy parts of a destination — the roach that ran over his foot, or whatever gross thing happened — yet you were so drawn in by his words that you were already online looking for cheap flights and a hotel in that destination. He called out television chefs who he claimed were nothing more than television personalities, he took elite Yelpers to task, and he always stayed true to who he was, acknowledging his own personal demons along the way.
His stories and shows helped me overcome the anxiety of giving up my stable life in California to move sight-unseen to Taiwan. I left behind everything I knew and loved for a seemingly glamorous life of travel. And, while I fully admit now it was the best decision I’ve ever made, I spent those first few months depressed, crying, and second-guessing my life. I loved the food and the chaotic vibe of Taipei, but I missed my friends, my parents, and as selfish as it sounds, my English TV. However, I put my big-girl panties on and posted the seemingly glamorous posts on social media. However, one day something sent me spiraling into a deep depression.
We were flying to Hong Kong for Christmas, which was primarily to cheer me up as I was on the verge of giving up on life abroad after only five months. It was my first Christmas in Taiwan, and only my second one away from my parents in my entire life. I struggled with the fact that we couldn’t afford the ridiculously expensive plane tickets for me to go home over the holidays. Then, something happened that made me want to go home even more — a very close family friend unexpectedly passed away. There was no way I could get home for the funeral, especially with two days notice. The holidays were already a rough time of year as my grandmother passed away years before only ten days before Christmas. My parents obviously understood and told me to stay and enjoy the holidays as best I could.
I soldiered on and went to Hong Kong. I even posted a couple photos and kept up the facade of “wow my life is grand.” However, an old high-school friend posted a comment on my photos and scoffed at me, ‘what kind of person am I to be traveling around Asia when my parents are aging and back home in California?’ Why was I spending “all that money” going to Hong Kong rather than bothering to give a crap about my parents and fly back home. When I read that, I went through a manic range of emotions — anger, sadness, despair, you name it. I wanted to type an emotionally-charged comment back, but I refrained. First off, it’s really none of your business, but a flight to Hong Kong (which is an hour or so from Taipei) is under $200, not $2,500 like Taiwan to Los Angeles was. That’s cheaper than if I had been living in California flying to see them!
I’m an emotional person by nature, and it’s part of why I refrain from posting personal narratives as I think no one will really give a shit anyway. When my “friend” said that, I didn’t post much at all about my travels for several years, and even now, I rarely post links to my professional work on my own personal profile. I save it for the brand pages and social media outlets.
Travel is not glamorous. In fact, it’s anything but glamorous at times. Even now, when I talk about where I am going, I constantly get the “omg you are so lucky,” or the “it’s not that hard, anyone can do it!” We’ve all gotten the “how can you make a living blogging?”, or “when are you going to get a “real” job?” questions. Bitch, please. I did and I do hold a real job. I survived 13 years in insurance litigation, with stress that landed me in the hospital twice to rule out a heart attack. I’ve done my time. Yes, I admit getting to say “I’ve lived in Taiwan, The Netherlands, and Belize, and I’ve traveled to 70 countries in the last decade” may sound impressive. But, I worked my ass off to get here…it wasn’t handed to me.
Obviously, I would never compare myself to someone on Anthony Bourdain’s level, but to all the people who keep saying he had a glamorous life and how could he be unhappy, depressed, or whatever adjective you want to use…it’s never a picnic 24/7. On average, he spent 250 days a year on the road, and that’s brutal. I can’t imagine doing it to film a full production show everywhere either. I’ve had to slow down due to health issues. I recognize that I am not in my mid-30’s anymore, so I am listening to those signs.
Recently, I had to complete nearly 60 hotel reviews for a client, and I did seven overnight property visits in nine days. I would get to a property, set up the tripod and camera, scramble to get the room and property photos before the sun went down, because next morning it was on to the next resort. I wasn’t lounging by the pool with the fancy cocktail in hand. And, if you dare try to talk about the exhausting side of this job to someone outside of the industry, people tend to be dismissive. I hear things like “it can’t be that bad,” “I feel no pity for you,” or “you are getting to see the world so stop complaining.” Everyone keeps saying why didn’t Anthony Bourdain reach out to someone or talk about his issues. He did, we did/do, but sometimes people just aren’t hearing them.
I can’t begin to know what demons he faced in his final days. I’ve read he reached out for help, but didn’t take the doctor’s advice. In his mind, he was done and that is obviously tragic. The hole he left behind will be impossible to fill. But, in trying to grasp at anything positive in this dark light, I think sharing personal stories about his influence, taking that trip that pushes your personal boundaries, and eating a food you never imagined you would, are all ways to honor a man who can be defined so much more eloquently than “just another celebrity death.”
I hope to pay homage to his contributions and influence by sharing tributes from several friends and colleagues here in Belize. While Anthony Bourdain never filmed an episode here — he did try Garifuna cuisine on an episode of Parts Unknown — his travels, achievements, and storytelling inspired so many people here as well.
I just loved his bluntness and honesty. It was reading his first book that I was like, “Yes! This is it!!! This is exactly it!” The Chef culture (at least in the States) is so different from the norm. We’re all a little weird. A little demented. We work so hard for so little pay and not a lot of recognition, that it absolutely has to be something you love. It’s something that runs in your veins. I knew I wanted to be a Chef from the time I was small. There are many pictures of me as a little kid getting in there and stirring the pot or cooking something. His life is/was what we are. And with that weirdness there’s a little darkness too. We are a family of our own, a culture of our own. A community. I remember when I was first at the CIA and the Chef Instructor told us to look around and that 90% of us would not be chefs anymore after 5 years, still in the industry in some way, but not a Chef. I found that amazing. I was like, “how can that be? We are all here because we love to cook and this is what we want”. It’s a special fraternity. You work your way up and usually have to do it while clawing your way. Anthony Bourdain just embodies all of that and made people realize what it meant to be a Chef. He gave a glimpse into this unique world. And did it with humor and honesty and his own passion. — Amy Knox, Chef and Owner of Wild Mangos, San Pedro, Belize
When it comes to food travel, I loathe the constant debates on what a “real” food traveler is. For some, you can only dine at fancy Michelin-starred restaurants that take a year to get in to, while others say you can only eat at street markets and local hole-in-the-wall places that no one else knows about. To me, food travel is what you want it to be, and that can be a combination of both! I don’t care whether you only eat at cheap places or ones that cost $300 a plate — just go! Travel somewhere new, challenge your boundaries, and try something local. Something you’ve never eaten before. Learn about the culture and the history of the dish you are trying. And, most importantly, cherish that memory and share it with someone else.
My friend in Belize, and occasional blogger, Kendall summed up his thoughts on Bourdain’s passing with what he calls “The Bourdain Effect.” His observations and opinions, tempered with a small side of snark, are a perfect way to pay homage to someone who managed to influence so many people with his amazing tales and cringe-worthy analogies.
Parts Unknown. No Reservations…they weren’t food shows. Food was the vehicle, but they were not about food. They were about people, they were about community, they were about sharing, and they were about the sharing with a community…over food.
Eating is a necessity that every human shares. The vast majority of us also find a great deal of pleasure in a great meal, and put a significant amount of time into preparation of food and selection of restaurants. Food and special meals are a cornerstone in family traditions, and also part of the very fabric of our cultures and religions. What is a birthday without a cake? What is Christianity with the Last Supper? What is Judaism without a Seder? Our lives and communities revolve around the SHARING of food. Bourdain left us a reminder that life is best served shared.
He joined people on their terms, letting them show bits of themselves to him, and thus the world. He learned about their lives, and he let them put their passions on display. Bourdain wasn’t simply in a kitchen tucked away – because it wasn’t about the food – he brought people together around the dinner table, to share their lives over a meal.
Looking at society today and the growing divide we seem to find among so many cultures, races, and religions, we see no shortage of directions fingers are pointed. One place we really need to look is the dinner table in our own houses. Food is intimate, and creates real conversation; yet we’ve become keen on eating meals off our laps in front of a television. The one time of the day to share and love has become a time when we stare at a screen and leave ourselves devoid, yet again, of meaningful interactions. We should be sharing and experiencing with each other…meaningfully, and over food. — Kendall Beymer, Owner Ecologic Divers Belize and Ecologic Adventures Roatan
From both of us at Our Tasty Travels, we hope to continue to travel the world for many more years, share memorable food and wine/beer experiences here on the site, challenge ourselves to be better storytellers, and continue to foster a community of people who long to learn more about the world through its cuisine.
Thank you, Anthony Bourdain. We’ll miss you.