There are two ways of traveling, which are really two ways of looking at the world. You can see another country as simply an experience to consume, a place to collect trophies. Or you can look at it as an environment to interact with, something that changes you through the encounter and that you inevitably change by visiting.
Mr. Bourdain chose the second. Food, he recognized, is an expression of culture. It’s geographical, economic and political. It’s about where people live, how they live, how they have to get by. “What people eat tells a story,” he told me, around the time of that Haiti episode. “What they’re cooking and why they’re cooking it.”
Mr. Bourdain, of course, loved food as food. In Vietnam, a country he returned to over and over (once dining with Barack Obama for his CNN show in 2016), he described the carnal pleasure of a bowl of rice, sweet clams, peanuts, chiles and pork rind. But on his table, food was also history, telling stories of migrations, adaptation and conquest. It was the physical manifestation of what people do to survive.
For someone who came up as a restaurant rascal, Mr. Bourdain had a strong moral impulse, which showed in his reflections on the #MeToo movement and the failings of his own industry. But he was too aware of his own flaws — and too funny — to be a moralizer.
Instead, for all he taught in his series, he was a student. He presented learning about the world as an obligation and an unbelievable adventure, something we’re ridiculously lucky to be able to do.
More than a travel guide, more than a food host, Mr. Bourdain was an evangelist of the senses. We’re each given a vehicle, the body, to explore the world, and a set of instruments — touch, smell and especially taste — with which to take in information.
It’s painful to know that Anthony Bourdain’s trip has ended. But he left behind one hell of a travelogue.
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