Parts Unknown

  1. His power as a medium for storytelling, especially when it came to standing up for people and cultures that are taken for granted or otherwise overlooked: “he gave faces and names to the people who cooked it, telling their stories in a way that humanized the people struggling through some of the most dire situations in the world.” Especially in the current political climate, Bourdain’s ability to put aside the usual preconceptions and non-judgmentally explore the worlds, beliefs, and cuisines of others, whether in West Virginia or the West Indies was rare, inspiring, and hard to match. Bourdain, with all his chef’s precision, consistently served up well rounded stories, complete with the sweet notes, sour moments, and bitter truths. Some choice lines of his that stand out to me are at the bottom of this post.
  2. His advocacy for women in a world where powerful and culpable men in the entertainment and food industry shirked blame or responsibility in the wake of the #MeToo movement. I’d attribute some of the strength of his voice in #MeToo to his relationship with Asia Argento, but so would he: as he called out in his interview with Trevor Noah: “I’d like to say that I was only enlightened in some way or I’m an activist or virtuous, but in fact, I have to be honest with myself. I met one extraordinary woman with an extraordinary and painful story, who introduced me to a lot of other women with extraordinary stories and suddenly it was personal.” Regardless the reason, he spoke out and spoke loud, and not just because the hashtag was trending.
  3. His fight with addiction and depression — and in jiu-jitsu. I know that Bourdain had been open about his drug problems and that to work in the food industry is to constantly find yourself at risk of becoming addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, or something else. From reading some of Bourdain’s writing on his past lives in kitchens, having close friends who have been in the food industry, and having had my own experiences on and off the line, the food business is truly a physically and mentally-bruising business. I haven’t found somewhere that he came out and said it explicitly, but I believe training jiu-jitsu was part of his way of dealing with addiction, perhaps a healthier addiction than others he’d suffered throughout his life. I’ve written on this a little on my two posts on training jiu-jitsu, but it’s the one thing that gives me temporary but reliable relief from my own demons. Fighting promotes my sanity, and I am convinced it had the same effect for Bourdain. If nothing else, I, too, share the future “hav[ing] my ass kicked everywhere in the world.
  1. How American is Puerto Rico? How American do they want to be?And how does the rest of America feel about Puerto Rico? How much responsibility are we willing to take for their aspirations, their well-being, their basic rights as humans, as citizens? The answer to that last question appears to be: not much.”
  2. I am intensely grateful for the kindness, hospitality, and patience the people of West Virginia showed to this ignorant rube from New York City who arrived with so many of the usual preconceptions, only to have them turned on their head.”
  3. “We love Mexican people — as we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children.”



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Erica Zendell

Erica Zendell


Quitter of the corporate grind in favor of the open road, a writing career, and a whole lot of jiu-jitsu. Currently writing from San Diego.