I mourned the loss of Anthony Bourdain this weekend.* As I watched the first episode of the final season of Parts Unknown, I was overwhelmed with emotions. During the first episode, he visited Kenya with comedian, W. Kamau Bell. While I knew this episode was significant, I did not expect to hang onto his every word and those he listened to. I did not expect to take in each experience shaken by the idea that these experiences are now limited. By the end of the episode, I was instantly reminded of my respect for him, my appreciation for his journalism, and only, wished it could have been shared throughout the vegan community.
Compassion is considered a cornerstone by vegans and yet, upon Bourdain’s death, some vegans were quick to spew hate. Some, appallingly, even praised his death. I understand he was not a vegan or vegetarian by any standard but I do believe it is important for folks to approach people and communities with an open-mind. My veganism does not make me superior to others and one’s omnivorous diet does not make them inherently evil. Let’s not forget the good non-vegan folks in our lives. As Bourdain showed us, while our diets may be an extension of us, they are only one aspect of us. If you believe the focus of Bourdain’s show was the food, I urge you to listen to the commentary again.
Bourdain didn’t visit the hottest tourist attractions with a washed down history. He traveled the world, putting a spotlight on people, history, and cultures that are often overlooked, misunderstood, or criticized. For many people, food is a very personal and intimate expression of their culture and love. With Bourdain’s openness, folks were willing to open their doors, share their food, and most importantly, share their stories. He accepted people without any preconditions or judgments and the same was true when he was among vegetarians in India.
Bourdain’s shows gave insight to human experiences and I’m not sure if he could have done the same work as a vegan. For those that believe he could have easily brought his own food or turned down certain dishes, probably have never seen the anguish in a grandmother’s face when you tell them you’re rejecting their food. It’s not about the food. It’s often taken as a rejection of them, a part of them, or their love. Accepting their food is accepting them. Anthony Bourdain understood this. Always willing to accept what they had to offer in exchange for a glimpse into their truth.
My personal convictions would not have allowed me to do the same work as Bourdain, but this is precisely, why I’m extremely grateful that he welcomed us on his journeys. As a vegan, I believe we must be mindful in respecting diverse cultures and understanding the significance of animal rights. We cannot spread veganism as a missionary project to “civilize” others. We must show compassion for human experiences and histories. When we fail to understand others, we deny them the opportunity to understand us.
I will miss Anthony Bourdain sharing his journey with us.
Rest in peace.
*Originally aired on September 23, 2018 on CNN but I’m a mom so I get to things late. 😉