How Anthony Bourdain Taught the World About Global Poverty


SEATTLE — Many people were shocked and saddened by Anthony Bourdain’s sudden passing last month. Bourdain had many talents; he was a gifted chef, a travel documentarian and a television personality. His television shows included A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Layover and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Parts Unknown was arguably his most famous and impactful show. Bourdain not only sampled cuisines across the world, he also explored cultures unknown to many Americans and shed light on marginalized and impoverished people. These are some examples of how Anthony Bourdain taught the world about global poverty.

Bourdain’s TV Shows Shed Light on the Aftermath of Disasters and Conflicts

A No Reservations episode in 2011 showed the devastation in Haiti, one year after the destructive earthquake. Bourdain focused on the poverty and lack of food on the island. One scene showed Bourdain and his crew members buying a food stand to give to the local people for free, but a fight broke out among the locals over it. “What happens is both predictable and a metaphor for what’s wrong with so much well-intentioned aid effort around the world,” Bourdain stated on No Reservations. “Hungry people anywhere behave like hungry people.”

In 2017, Anthony Bourdain traveled to Laos for Parts Unknown. Bourdain shed light on the little-known war that took place there in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, the United States dropped many bombs here to fight the Communist Pathet Lao. To this day, as Bourdain pointed out, the countryside is still littered with unexploded bombs. While sampling local Laotian cuisine, Bourdain talked with citizens whose lives were dramatically changed by the war. “Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in the history of the world. Eighty million is the number of cluster bombs that did not detonate,” Bourdain revealed.

One of the many times Anthony Bourdain taught the world about global poverty was when he visited Myanmar. Very few Americans are knowledgeable about this country, which has been politically oppressed for more than half a century. Bourdain discussed the violence against ethnic groups (there are 135 within Myanmar): “All along the edges they’re waging a war to hang on to the status quo.”

Anthony Bourdain Taught the World About Global Poverty and Economic Struggles

Bourdain traveled to the Congo for the last episode of the first season of Parts Unknown. He learned how people with little to no technology and limited food sources make do. He and his crew visited the Wagenia fishing village, where they ate tigerfish steamed in a banana leaf. Local fishermen in the Congo use a system of wooden poles to catch what fish are left in the river. The fishermen explained that tourists used to visit when the river was more plentiful and the region was more peaceful.

In the eighth episode of season four of Parts Unknown, Bourdain visited Jamaica, where he learned about its transition to a service economy. Many Jamaicans who had been fishermen for years are now performing tourist services, such as carrying golf bags. This episode illustrated the contrast between the massive wealth of some of the white residents and the poverty many local Jamaicans are struggling with.

Bourdain was interviewed by Sirius XM radio in 2015 and was asked about his opinion on undocumented immigrants. “Like a lot of other white kids, I rolled out of a prestigious culinary institute and went to work in real restaurants. 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,” he said. Bourdain told Sirius XM that if undocumented immigrants are deported, it will have a negative impact on the economy and the restaurant business. Bourdain used his power and influence to discuss the importance of marginalized immigrants in America.

These examples of how Anthony Bourdain taught the world about global poverty do not cover all of his accomplishments during his short time on Earth. He was a bestselling author, was named Food Writer of the Year in 2001 and has won multiple Emmy awards. Most importantly, Bourdain was an inspiration to chefs, cooks, immigrants and millions of TV viewers. He taught people that simply sharing a meal can break barriers, challenge one another and build bridges.

– Ariane Komyati
Photo: Google


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