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Scott writes: "Anthony Bourdain, who was found dead Friday in an apparent suicide, opened his viewers' eyes to issues within and beyond the borders of the United States through food."

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. (photo: Twitter)
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. (photo: Twitter)

Anthony Bourdain Used His Platform to Draw Attention to the Marginalized

By Eugene Scott, The Washington Post

09 June 18


nthony Bourdain, who was found dead Friday in an apparent suicide, opened his viewers' eyes to issues within and beyond the borders of the United States through food.

He also championed many of the communities that affected his work in the kitchen and on screen. Whether it was global poverty, systemic racism in the United States or sexual abuse of women in the workplace, Bourdain frequently used the publicity he earned through his celebrity to draw attention to the issues affecting the people behind the food that he brought into Americans' living rooms.

Here are some examples:

On the effect of undocumented immigrants on the restaurant industry

In a 2015 interview with Pete Dominick on Sirius XM, Bourdain discussed the anti-immigration views many Americans were expressing as Donald Trump's candidacy ascended, calling the desire to build a border wall “ridiculous.”

Dominick asked Bourdain: “What is your point of view of these undocumented immigrants?”

“Like a lot of other white kids, I rolled out of a prestigious culinary institute and went to work in real restaurants,” he replied. “I walked into restaurants, and the person always who’d been there the longest, who took the time to show me how it was done, was always Mexican or Central American.”

The television personality went on to suggest that if undocumented immigrants were deported, as Trump suggested during the 2016 presidential campaign, that would have a real economic impact on the restaurant industry.

“If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant in America would shut down,” Bourdain added.

On the sexual harassment of women in the restaurant industry

Bourdain repeatedly discussed the prevalence of sexual misconduct in the restaurant industry and the role he played in either perpetuating it or not sufficiently addressing it. He reflected on the #MeToo movement in a Medium post after stories about sexual harassment from restaurateurs Mario Batali and Ken Friedman came to light. He wrote:

In these current circumstances, one must pick a side. I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women. Not out of virtue, or integrity, or high moral outrage—as much as I’d like to say so—but because late in life, I met one extraordinary woman with a particularly awful story to tell, who introduced me to other extraordinary women with equally awful stories. I am grateful to them for their courage, and inspired by them. That doesn’t make me any more enlightened than any other man who has begun listening and paying attention. It does makes me, I hope, slightly less stupid.

Right now, nothing else matters but women’s stories of what it’s like in the industry I have loved and celebrated for nearly 30 years — and our willingness, as human beings, citizens, men and women alike, to hear them out, fully, and in a way that other women can feel secure enough, and have faith enough that they, too, can tell their stories.

On racial discrimination in the restaurant industry

Bourdain discussed some of the biggest challenges in the food industry with Ocean Drive in 2016.

When he was asked, “What’s the most important food-industry issue nobody is talking about?” Bourdain replied, “Racism.”

In an industry that’s always been open to everybody, notoriously so — every refugee and fugitive, dysfunctional character in the world could always find a home in a restaurant — why aren’t there more African American chefs and African American cooks represented in the mid- to high-range restaurants?" he said.

On Trump's voters

Bourdain was an unapologetic liberal who had no problem criticizing conservatism and President Trump. But he understood the power of his show, and after the election he spent time in Trump's America. After visiting West Virginia, he told the Daily Beast in April:

I think because it’s so different than the culture I grew up in and the place I grew up in, and the political landscape is very different than mine. I pride myself on trying to show up with an open mind and an open heart in places like Saudi Arabia, Liberia, Vietnam, Iran. Why not my own country? Why not show that same respect and empathy in the heart of God, guns, and Trump country? I was curious, and I was utterly disarmed and very moved by what I found there. People were incredibly kind and generous to me, not hostile to my political beliefs, and we talked a lot about coal, the Second Amendment, and why people who come from five generations of breaking their backs in the coal mine would vote for a sketchy New York real estate guy who’s never changed a tire in his life. The answers were a lot more nuanced than I’d expected. your social media marketing partner
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