Anthony Bourdain on Travel, Food and War

You name a topical spot, chef Anthony Bourdain has most likely been there. However, unlike other communicators, he’s not reporting back from these places to the nightly bulletin with a hard news angle – He’s looking at the people, and the food, and what’s happened before or after the ‘news story’.

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Recently the regarded conflict commentator John Little and publisher of ‘Blogs of War’ posted a piece featuring chef and communicator Anthony Bourdain. An interview with a man whose primary interest lies in communicating about food on a blog that focuses on war? Surely that’s a bit divergent from the editorial policy. Not so.

For as anyone who has watched, or, at least is familiar with Bourdain’s shows (particularly Parts Unknown) will attest, fewer people are better placed to comment on topically hot locales and places forever familiar with conflict than Bourdain. You name any country long avoided owing to safety concerns, and/or constantly featured in the world news section of the newspaper, the chances that Bourdain and his crew have been there are high.  They’re trips that don’t just make for excellent viewing, but so too a unique and organic take on people, their interactions and help to break down stereotypes the world over.

Pepper Passport contacted John, and have received his permission to publish relevant parts from his interview with Bourdain. Sadly, they’re hauntingly relevant at this present time, but do also show that no matter who’s on ‘what side’, and placing differences aside, commonalities can be found between us all.

On the link relationship between conflict, geography, history and food…

“I came to realize that everything, particularly something as intimate as a meal, is a reflection of both a place’s history and its present political and military circumstances. In fact, the meal is where you can least escape the realities of a nation’s situation. People tend to be less guarded and more frank (particularly when alcohol is involved).”

“When you travel with no agenda other than asking the simple questions, sharing a moment with people around the table, people tell you extraordinary things. You tend to notice things that can’t be avoided.”

On making a more conscious effort to tell more complicated stories via food…

“We realized that when you ask people “What do you like to eat? What do you like to cook? What makes you happy?” and are willing to spend the time necessary to hear the answers, that you are often let “in” in ways that a hard news reporter working a story might not be.” 

On reconciling the hospitality received in conflict zones against the brutality that’s communicated about them…

It is a constant series of surprises, of having everything I thought I knew turned upside down. People nearly everywhere have been lovely to me. Most places,people are extremely proud of their food and are frankly flattered when somebody asks about it. Palestinians in particular seemed delighted that someone–anyone–would care to depict them eating and cooking and doing normal, everyday things–you know, like people do. They are so used to camera crews coming in to just get the usual shots of rock throwing kids and crying women.”

“Iran was mind-blowing. My crew has NEVER been treated so well–by total strangers everywhere. We had heard that Persians are nice. But nicEST? Didn’t see that coming. Its very confusing. Total strangers thrilled to encounter Americans, just underneath the inevitable “Death To America” mural. The gulf between perception and reality, between government policy and what you see on the street and encounter in peoples homes, in restaurants–everywhere–it’s just incredible. There’s no way to be prepared for it.”

On Gaza and the West Bank…

“It’s impossible to see Gaza, for instance, the camps, the West Bank and not find yourself reeling with the ugliness of it all. The absolute failure of smart, presumably good-hearted people on both sides to find something/anything better than what we’ve arrived at. And the willingness of people to not see what is plainly apparent, right there, enormous and frankly, hideous. Unfortunately, we live in a world where it’s nearly impossible to even describe reality much less deal with it. It’s utterly heartbreaking.”

On the people you meet and placing beliefs aside…

I don’t have to agree with a guy to enjoy their company. As a political ideology and as a practical matter, I loath communism. However, I often find myself getting along very well with communists. I feel the same way about Red State America. Not my world, not always my point of view. But I always have a good time in gun country America and tend to like the people I meet. Palin sticker on your bumper or Che Guevara–if you have a sense of humor and enjoy food made with pride, chances are, we can be pals.

Be sure to read the full interview at ‘Blogs of War’ here, and follow John @blogsofwar on twitter where he leverages thousands of conflict, intelligence, security, technology & political sources to provide level-headed analysis in a complex news environment.

Image credits; Morning Donuts and @anthonybourdain instagram. 


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