Where some networks try to divide, Anthony Bourdain wanted people to come to the dinner table.
It’s not journalism by today’s standard – cooking food and talking to people about their lives is just entertainment to kill time on a quiet afternoon. Journalism is now a fancy way to describe writing and publishing things about people you don’t like and telling your readers whom to hate, whom to love, and what to fear. Journalism in its classic sense is dead, its carcass is rotting somewhere we dare not venture because we don’t care about it enough to do so. The “journalists” of today found it, however, and are running around wearing its skin like some savage garb.
Punk rock chef Anthony Bourdain died seven months ago; his ashes were spread and his legacy lives on in syndication. We wept for a minute and moved on with our lives. We envied his life, lusted for his job, and of course, craved the exotic food he featured on all his programs. To call him a celebrity chef with a travel show is to diminish his legacy. Over a decade and a half, Bourdain was a guest in our living rooms via our televisions. He took us to locations we didn’t know existed, and introduced us to people we knew nothing about. Bourdain used food as a tool to tell the stories of entire cultures, and unlike many talking heads, spent most of his time listening instead of eating. Instead of shoving a microphone in someone’s face, he’d offer them a beer and end up sharing a meal.
Bourdain was the Hunter S. Thompson of my generation, experiencing life and taking us on those fantastic journeys with him. From ghetto slums to the most fantastic cities on earth, Bourdain’s docuseries were raw, fun, and left us learning more than we did before. While headlines and breaking news are forgotten faster than the speed of the ticker at the bottom of the screen, Bourdain’s adventures have left an impression on everyone who watched him.
In August of 2018, I traveled to Iceland, my first trip abroad in over a decade. While always looking to make a story out of my day so I could pitch it to a publisher and maybe make some change out of it, this was going to be a working vacation, an opportunity to write a story and film while also using this time to decompress from a previous career in the muddy game of politics I was fleeing. I thought Iceland was far enough away (and within my modest budget). Upon arrival, I realized I had forgotten to pack my camera and laptop, which meant no filming or blogging anytime soon. Very soon I realized, this working vacation would become just a regular vacation, my dream of a Bourdain-styled travel vlog was dead in the water. I wanted to be Anthony Bourdain the host, not Anthony Bourdain who just loved to experience new sites and experiences.
Those seven days rejuvenated my soul, and being abroad in a country I knew nothing about reminded me just how small I was in this beautiful world. I was ignorant abroad in a culture alien to my own, but I began to love every minute of it. Bourdain once said, “travel is about teetering into the unknown” and that described my Forrest Gump-like desire to learn and experience everything around me perfectly. For probably the first time in my several years as a freelance journalist, I spent more time listening, and less time talking. I spent less time viewing the world through the lens of a camera or a monitor, and more time witnessing the beauty of nature with my bare eyes.
Bourdain’s style of journalism and non-traditional reporting, from sitting in a therapist’s chair in Argentina discussing his bouts of depression, to being stuck in Israel during a time of hot conflict, forced the viewer to see the world as he did, with wonder and curiosity. There is a place for strict reporting and a place for pumping out stories in our 24/7 news cycle, but the spot that Bourdain occupied has yet to be filled by anyone else. He was a journalist who told stories for the sake of telling them, not for clicks or views, but for the joy of learning. Bourdain never lectured or criticized, instead, he asked us to go get a passport, and travel the world with an appetite for knowledge and food.
While Bourdain fans all have their own favorite moment from his various travels over the years, I will always remember one piece of wisdom he bestowed upon us, saying “travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you… You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
True journalism isn’t telling your audience what to believe, it is showing them the facts and how things are, and letting them come to their own conclusion. Bourdain was universally loved by people of all faiths, political stripes, and backgrounds, because instead of trying to fill an echo-chamber, he wanted his audience to fill their lives with experiences – together.