Anthony Bourdain, the award-winning chef, bestselling author and host of CNN’s Parts Unknown, died by suicide yesterday at the age of 61.
I told my friends yesterday that, of all the celebrity deaths in my lifetime, none has shaken me more. Bourdain inspired me—an avid fan, I tuned-in to every episode and gained inspiration not just from the content he produced, but from the life he lived. He was an honest broker, a curious traveler and a storyteller who asked us to challenge our comfort zones.
Until June 18, the first 8 seasons of Parts Unknown will be available on Netflix. If you are a lover of people, culture or travel, spend this weekend binge-watching as many as you can. You’ll be rewarded with countless lessons on life, love and history that you’ll be able to apply to your own travels, just as I have. In honor of his memory, I’d like to share three of the lessons he taught me.
Comfort zones are cubicles of selfishness
Bourdain long criticized Western travelers for closed-mindedness when it came to food. I myself have often struggled to find the courage to try new dishes, but his words have encouraged me to give the people and cultures I interact with a fair shot.
The notion that before you even set out for Thailand, you say, ‘I’m not interested,’ or you’re unwilling to try things that people take so personally and are so proud of and so generous with, I don’t understand that, and I think it’s rude.
He was controversial in his thoughts on veganism, once calling it a “first-world phenomenon,” but his intention was to push foreign travelers to experience and respect cultures through their foods—even if the local cuisine did not agree with one’s palate or sensibilities. When I tried street food in Seoul, Korea (best decision ever) and ate goat meat with a side of ants in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (it was tasty), I thought of Bourdain, and understood those places just a bit better.
A single perspective is never enough
Bourdain had a set of strong beliefs. And, depending on where you fall on the political spectrum, you might love him or hate him. But, regardless of what he thought, he never passed up an opportunity to listen and learn. In a recent episode of Parts Unknown, he recognized the humanity—the good—within those with whom he disagreed politically.
Here, in the heart of every belief system I’ve ever mocked or fought against, I was welcomed with open arms by everyone. I found a place both heartbreaking and beautiful, a place that symbolizes and contains everything wrong and everything wonderful and beautiful about America.
That setting was deep in the coal country of McDowell County, West Virginia, where the people hold a political view that was dramatically opposite Bourdain’s. But still, he visited. By experiencing the food, learning about the region’s history and listening to the stories of countless residents, his perspective grew. And he was better for it.
This is something I have always strived to do in my own travels. In Cambodia, I learned about the atrocities carried out by the Khmer Rouge at the S-21 prison camp. In Dubai, I took a sightseeing cruise with a man from Saudi Arabia, listening to stories about his life and family. In Selma, Alabama, I met Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas and rolled my wheelchair across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We need to meet people and hear their stories to understand this world. Anthony Bourdain did that, and he inspires me to do the same.
Movement gives life meaning
I love movement. I keep a tally of every mile I’ve ever flown, the number of hotels I’ve stayed in – even the number of Greyhound bus rides I’ve taken.
If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
If you don’t move, you won’t experience new things. You won’t broaden your perspective. And movement of the mind is the most important movement for all.
Even if you don’t have the resources to visit the faraway destinations that Bourdain covered, he taught us that there are amazing things all around us. And, as I have always said, accessible travel is local. That’s where it starts. That’s how it should be, wherever we go. And that was the depth to which Bourdain explored—he wanted to see, experience, witness, participate and taste—to the point where he, too, could become a local.
Thank you, Bourdain. Thank you for the gift of your perspective. And for the courage to leap beyond your comfort zone. You have inspired millions.
Important Resources — Knowing Bourdain only through his televised appearances and social media posts, I was shocked to learn of his death. The circumstances remind us all to be vigilant in the face of depression – in ourselves and in those whom we love. If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline in your area. For readers in the United States, their website is www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org and they can be reached by calling +1 (800) 273-8255. If you live abroad, please consult this list of international suicide hotlines, curated by Wikipedia.
Feature images courtesy of CNN.