In Honor of Anthony Bourdain

I signed up for a History of Food course in college thinking I would finally be living the dream of stuffing my face with food for homework. Maybe we would take field trips to Chipotle, or – even better – I would get to taste test foods prepared by a professor every Tuesday and Thursday surrounded by other impoverished students for “free”. None of these things came to pass. Instead of acting out some bacchanalian fantasy of rolling around in a classroom-turned-hookah parlor eating grapes and giggling about carbs, I was reading a new book every week on the socio-economic impact of food culture, how trade shaped our modern Western palate and animal rights. All of these concepts proved very moving, though I never could quite give up McDonald’s.

Midway through the course we moved away from the medieval concepts of spices and how food moved our ancestors from one life to another, we finally got to the good stuff: modern food. Topics like Japanese fast food, the concept of authenticity in dishes, and Anthony Bourdain. He was a new face for me, I’m ashamed to say, but I was intrigued by what he did, how he plopped into fascinatingly familiar foreign locales like he just rounded the corner from his own home. To live a life like that, where everyone is a story, every meal a lesson, every new stop a chance to rediscover yourself, was what I wanted for my own journey. He spoke with such accessible eloquence about how the act of eating a bowl of noodles could change your outlook for the better. Could I live that life, I wondered? Could we all be a little more open to experience and discomfort for the promise of transcendence? What a world that would be.

My husband yelled to me from the kitchen this morning that Anthony Bourdain had died, that he’d ended his life at the age of 61. Three years older than my father. Young by our modern standards, still full of potential to continue changing us for the better. My heart sank. It was only a few days removed from the passing of Kate Spade, a designer whose products I still couldn’t really afford, but nonetheless enjoyed looking at. Two successful, wealthy, well-respected, and powerful people who seemed to have it all.

“Why?” Both my parents asked me when I called them to let them know, as though we’d lost a dear friend.

I didn’t have a clean and easy answer beyond my own experience with suicide, so I tried my best to lay it out without scaring them. Sometimes, I told them, when we can’t see a way out of the dark, when so many people rely on us to be put together, we think we’re doing them a favor by being silent. When your life revolves around making others feel joy or peace the last thing you want to do is alter that perception. Depression is a liar, an indiscriminate monster; the disease permeates through your bones and ripples through your brain, working hard to convince you the world would be better off without you. That is never the case, I assured them and myself, but the illness makes you believe the lie. Not even someone as bold and brave as Anthony could be safe without a support system.


I felt I knew the man who opened up many of us to the world through our bellies. In reality, I don’t know what Anthony Bourdain suffered, I don’t know who, if anyone, he told. All I know for certain is we can’t languish in silence any longer. We have to check on people, especially those who do their best to appear invincible. Caissie S. Onge captured this concept perfectly:


Before you do anything else, get help today if you struggle with your mental health. Don’t wait until the day you need it, nor the next free moment in your life. Get yourself help, heal your wounds.  Talk to a friend with a history of depression, let them know you’re there for them, because the road is long and hard alone. Then, go see the world through a lens like Anthony’s.


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