“Whatever it is that Anthony Bourdain does, I want to do for a living.”
This was a Facebook status I posted a few years ago, inspired by the epicurean journeys Anthony Bourdain was known for via his shows No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown. Though I had always been drawn to food and the myriad of lessons it could teach us beyond satiating and self-satisfying needs, Bourdain catapulted that interest into a deep passion for the connective tissue between cultures that I now saw it as. But beyond the message, his delivery of it was also the hook, a mix of brash irreverence that pushed the envelope on how we should view food culture and constantly poked the bear that is societal norms and expectations, and a paradoxical reverence for the simple humanity of sharing a meal with someone. “Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody,” he had mused.
Fast forward some years later and I found myself on a beach in Aruba, feeding a flamingo, all right after sharing a traditional Aruban meal with the locals. For work. The realization of the moment was a rush of feelings, and remembering that Facebook status of speaking that aspiration into existence had me emotional. The first person I thought of during this eureka moment? Anthony Bourdain. He was the benchmark. The MJ of storytelling. The Ali of empathy. But ultimately I just wanted to be the Bourdain of being human.
This gift of setting the table for the human condition and allowing the whole world to dine with him is something I use daily as inspiration, whether I’m on my own food journeys in different parts of this planet chasing a ‘What would Bourdain do?’ blueprint or simply grabbing a bite with loved ones. And ultimately, he was able to shrink divides between people by helping us realize that through our stomachs and palates, common ground could be found, erasing surface-level differences with each bite, each morsel, each food-stuffed smile.
That such an impactful human and tremendous influence had passed by suicide cratered a deeper chasm within me, though, digging in close to home knowing my own private struggles and how I tried to take my own life a few years back. Normally such a subject would be taboo, but it’s vital now to shed light on depression and mental health. It’s crucial to let your loved ones know how much you mean to them and how important their presence on this planet really is. It matters. It matters enough for us to be there for one another, shouldering burdens and carrying each other to a safety that shelters us from any harm, whether it be from self or others. It matters to know that there is professional help out there too, to help us battle these struggles and inner demons.
We’re all under the thumb of some sort of pain, some worse than others and to the point of unbearable. But it’s a battle we fight regularly. You never know who’s struggling more in this battle, where a dark place seems a better solace. But there’s signs of this struggle. Reach out to them. Let them know of the infinite better out there and that there is a support system. Allow them a seat at your table. It would be the Bourdain thing to do.
I won’t ask for pardon for this grief. This is my respects paid to a well of inspiration, one of the main reasons why I get to do what I do for a living.
Thank you Anthony Bourdain for broadening our borders and helping us explore this earth through your compelling perspective. Thank you for the infectious curiosity that navigated mankind and this planet boldly by shrinking it to the size of a kitchen or dining room. Thank you for introducing to us a world where its lens into humanity showed the common thread of food, creativity, and kindness as the greatest equalizers.
Please, if you are one of those suffering mentally and need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also visit reportingonsuicide.org for more information.