The first photo to appear on my Instagram feed this morning was one posted by Chrissy Teigen of Anthony Bourdain. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d receive the news of his death — of his suicide — via Instagram. This talented chef and genius food writer has deeply impacted my career (like he has so many others), and though I won’t ever have a chance to tell him so personally, it was only six months ago that I had the opportunity to meet and interview Bourdain, a first in my 11-year career.
For several decades and even amid today’s saturated landfill of trashy food news, Bourdain has been a constant north star of food reporting. He has steadfastly maintained his stance on honoring other cultures through the lens of food, using it as a means to educate and unite humanity. In Kitchen Confidential, the gutsy tell-all about life as a professional chef that catapulted him to stardom, he wrote, “Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.” He inspired Americans — and really the world at large — to leap faithfully off the edge of our comfort zones and venture to “parts unknown” to dine on… well, unknown parts.
Bourdain was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and immigrant rights and used his voice to empower the disenfranchised, set records straight, and campaign for causes that had the ability to transform the world for the better. Through his television shows, books, interviews, and more, he made it his life mission to dismantle prejudices about certain areas and expand our hearts. He said, “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.” There was always a hope that at the end of a meal halfway across the world, we could walk away from the table realizing we’re all human. Despite our seeming differences, we’re all grappling with universal issues to connect and to be fulfilled.
What an incredible, courageous being, and what a tragedy that he is gone. His death is a reminder to treat language and other cultures (which encompasses food) with respect. To use my words to do good for others. It’s easy to go into a trance in life, resort to tired expressions and cliches, and fall into the trap of thinking we can’t make an impact. And it’s so far from the truth. We influence each other more than we know. We owe it to Bourdain to continue his legacy and connect the world by breaking bread. In his cookbook Appetites, he writes, “The human heart… remains — a mystery to me. But I’m learning. I have to.” And we must too.
If you need help or know someone else who does, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.
(Photo via Paul Bruinooge / Getty Images)