“Find myself in Beirut during the 2006 war was clearly a defining moment for the show–and some kind of crossroads for me personally.”
Food, culture, conflict are things with which chef, author and restauranteur Anthony Bourdain must contend in producing his TV shows, “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown.” The brutish, chain smoking and potty mouthed host glowers his way through his shows but his sensitivity to his hosts is never far from his mind.
I used to think that basically, the whole world, that all humanity were basically bastards. I’ve since found that most people seem to be pretty nice–basically good people doing the best they can . There is rarely, however, a neat takeaway. You have to learn to exercise a certain moral relativity, to be a good guest first–as a guiding principle. Other wise you’d spend the rest of the world lecturing people, pissing people off, confusing them and learning nothing. Do I pipe up every time my Chinese host serves me some cute animal I may not approve of?
Bourdain recently debriefed Blogs of War about his culinary (and otherworldly) exploits,
I’ve been able to look at places like post Benghazi Libya, the DRC, Liberia, Haiti, Cuba, Gaza, the West Bank, Kurdistan and recently Iran from a very intimate angle. Those are all very long stories–and if you don’t take that time to listen, to take in the everyday things–the things that happened before the news story, there’s not much hope in understanding them.
Bourdain says sometimes food tells the real story of what’s happening in a country, as he found out recently in pre-revolutionary Egypt,
When we expressed a desire to shoot a segment at one of the ubiquitous street stands selling ful, our fixers and translators, who, no doubt also worked for some sinister department of the Interior Ministry, were absolutely adamant that we not do it. What was it about this simple, everyday, working class meal of beans and flatbread that just about everyone in Cairo was eating that was so threatening? Turns out, they knew better than us. The price of bread had been going up. The army controlled most of the bakeries and stocks of flour. There had been riots over bread elsewhere in the country. And the inescapable fact was that ful was ALL that much of the population was eating and the bastards knew it. That was an image they apparently considered sensitive , dangerous: their countrymen eating bread.