Sep 18, 2010

Anthony Bourdain Hates on Vegetarians, Makes Me Think...

I went with friends to see Anthony in Sacramento last night with excitement and a bit of trepidation, knowing his views on vegetarians. Yes, I am a fan of his show, and I know that's like Debbie Gibson saying she's a fan of Marilyn Manson, but I'll admit, it's true. I like his snarky banter and love to see where he travels and the cultural foods.

The show began with him jumping into his witty and snarkalicious self, as he joked about the various Food Network personalities, "What's a 40 year old doing with a pair of sunglasses permanently attached to the back of his head?" (about Guy Fieri- hilarious!). Then he talked about his experience on Top Chef and how it wasn't fixed (good to know!). He talked about traveling, and the fact that he's only gotten sick twice in all the years he's been doing the show (impressive).

And then it came to the time that I was dreading. He began by saying that he had some good tips if you're going to travel: You're stupid to go to Starbuck's, Hard Rock Cafe, or if you come back with a "Planet Hollywood, Rome" T-shirt; dress appropriately and not like a tourist, and don't go to a mosque wearing Daisy Duke's; Don't go to the restaurant where the tour bus from Sacramento is parked, and eat every cultural food in sight.

Why, he said, would you not want to experience all that a new culture is offering you? People take great pride in the food from their region, and many times will make something with their own two hands that was a preparation passed down from generations of tradition- just to share it with you. Again, how can you not eat everything in sight? "...which is why I don't understand vegetarians..." (Oh, no- here it comes!)

He went on to basically say that you should denounce your vegetarianism when you travel so you can experience all that culture has to offer... even if it's a plate full of dead puppy heads (gasp!). Otherwise, "it's just rude." He continued by saying personal ethics (when it comes to being vegetarian) should be thrown out the window, with the exception of religious beliefs.

Now I don't know about the rest of you, but my choice of being vegan is not a mere preference. The reason I'm vegan is rooted in some very emotional and spiritual feelings about animals and my relationship with them. When I see meat on my plate, I think about my involvement in killing that animal, and I literally get a knot in my stomach. Does that not liken veganism/vegetarianism to the conviction and spirituality of a religion?

On the other hand, what Anthony said did make me think. There would be situations while experiencing different countries, and being respectful to their cultures that would persuade me to sample an animal product for the sake of not only the culinary experience, but the culture's deep appreciation of that food and where it came from. It would require some serious deliberation on my part, but I think there could be exceptions made.

But, I'm sorry Anthony- there's no way in hell I'd eat a puppy, even if a 100 year-old great grandmother and queen of a remote village prepared it, and was sitting there amongst all the other villagers, huddled around me and anxiously awaiting my first bite. I think I would rather offend them all and run like hell. There's gotta be a line drawn somewhere!


  1. Good points. When taking part in unfamiliar cultural traditions, especially when it involves travel, situations involving conflict between cultural sensitivity and personal ethics can be difficult to resolve, so I do wonder where to make compromises (if at all) in order not to offend my hosts while still preserving my most sacred beliefs. It's definitely something to consider, so thank you for bringing up the topic and sharing your thoughts on it.

  2. Well said! I think that comment was rash and off base of his. He should understand that vegetarianism isn't about personal health; it's a choice for animal rights that doesn't go away.

  3. You have to admit though, the man's lost a lot of his bite over the years. I seem to remember him even eating and enjoying a vegan meal at some point on No Reservations... I think it's mostly just talk these days. Can't loose his carnivore cred when in the presence of so many "foodies", right? Ha.

  4. This whole thing is very interesting to me because I'm a vegan for primarily health reasons, and the animal rights and environmental benefits are a bonus. Before I stopped eating animal products, I used to have the same opinion about vegetarians and vegans. I think this definitely lends me some sympathy for Anthony Bourdain's views. I remember feeling judged and disrespected by vegetarians who would look upon my meaty dishes with disgust. I try to remember that no matter what's on the menu, it was probably created with as much love and respect as I put into all of my dishes and I try to treat it as so. This doesn't mean that dinner at a friends' can't get tricky, it often does, but I think that we can all try to be more respectful of the efforts of others, especially when we are guests.

  5. Oh I really missed that...I love his show, read all his books, since Kitchen confidential. I would really love to see him live. Good luck with the challenges, I'll be with my fingers crossed tomorrow. Have a great weekend.

  6. I'm no vegetarian or vegan but I see NO reason to compromise those ideals while traveling. A country and it's food are more than that, and you can experience so much of the culture through other means. And every country has dishes based primarily on vegetables, is eating those any less of an "experience"???

  7. I think Anthony has definitely experienced the pain of killing animals on his show, and is probably a little more sympathetic now than he used to be, but there is still a matter of respect that I think is missing on both sides these days.

    No one wants to be judged for their choices in life, veggies and meat-eaters alike. We all have our arguments and we can agree to disagree, but the turned-up noses and snobbery needs to stop.

    In the end, the more we respect each other and view each other as equals, the more we can learn from each other's experiences and perhaps find some common ground.

    As a vegan, my hope is that more people are aware of how animals are treated before they make it to their plates, and to gain a higher level of appreciation for that animal's life, and to be aware of how our over-consumption is affecting our environment as well as our health.

    For meat-eaters, I'm sure they want us veggies to understand that they prefer not to turn their backs on centuries of tradition and the ability to have a broader, unlimited culinary experience (tell me if I'm wrong).

    And, I am seeing a trend (hopefully not just a trend) of more people eating more responsibly- locally produced, organic, lighter, etc.

    So maybe we are evolving towards seeing past our respective righteousness and moving closer to supporting one other, instead of bashing. -Let's stop the snobbery, guys- whatdaya say?

  8. I'm by no means vegan (used to be vegeatarian though), but I think Anthony's views are extremely ignorant.

    Having a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle is exactly that - a lifestyle. Not simply picking and choosing what you will eat & when. That's like saying you should partake in polygamy when visiting certain African nations, because it's part of their culture. Silly and shortsighted.

  9. Hi Karma, How about others respecting vegans' rights to eschew animal food-- rather than us making the exception and eating meat to respect their culture? After all, my choice is about not hurting living creatures, and therefore more worthy of respect than a culture where people have never stopped to think about an animal's pain and suffering. As a traveler, there's a lot more to experience in any place than just the food it might be famous for. I find looking for vegan options in any place I visit challenging and interesting -- and I never go hungry. In fact, I always eat very well.

  10. When I went on tour in Ecuador with my DJ crew, I wasn't vegan at the time, but one of my DJ's was. It was very hard for him to find vegan options besides rice and potato dishes, and a lot of those dishes even had bits of meat in them, and who knows what else? He did the best he could, but ate a few questionable dishes that probably had a little meat in them. I think certain countries are far more veg-friendly than others- I would just do research beforehand, and be as prepared as possible!

  11. I don't think you can just throw your beliefs out the door when you go to a different country just because you think you might offend people. There is a sprituality to not harming the animals and the earth. I just think that Bourdain doesn't get us.
    There are plenty of other ways to experience the culture of other countries and there is usually some kind of non-meat dish that they eat that is from their.
    Regarding the DJ in Ecuador, at least he wasn't ordering a plate of meat, some may have happened to be in a dish he was eating, obviously not by his choice, but he was doing the best he could.

  12. I think it's possible to be discreet, eat what you want to, and not offend anyone in the process. I think it's when people try to muscle their views on others that the trouble starts. I think we should all just be respectful of everyone else's choices, and realize that just because we so choose to eat one way or another that someone else may rightly choose to do the opposite. After all, that's what makes our world so interesting.