Thursday, October 27, 2011

Anthony Bourdain and Moby in Asheville

The other day, Jason got a text from Mackensy Lunsford, the most excellent food writer for the Mountain Xpress, asking if, as a local chef, he had any questions for Anthony Bourdain, who's coming to Asheville next weekend and who she was interviewing.  We talked about it, and he wrote back to ask a question.  Bourdain's response is in today's Xpress.  You can read the complete interview here. 

Here are some excerpts, including Jason's question:

Anthony Bourdain has not been to Asheville recently, despite rumors to the contrary. But he has a vague understanding of what we're about from a previous trip years ago for a book-signing. "I remember this hip island of enlightenment," says Bourdain, who doesn't recall much else about the visit, including the date. 
And while some may choose to attribute that lapse in memory to Bourdain's purportedly high-partying lifestyle in years past, it's more likely that it can be pinned on the fact that the chef-turned-writer has been, quite simply, just about everywhere you want to be — and plenty of places where you might not.

Bourdain is coming to Asheville again on Saturday, Nov 5, this time to talk about food and travel, and how life in general relates to both. He took more than a few minutes out of his day to chat with Xpress from the back of a car taking him from New York City to Waterbury, Conn. He lost reception several times (lucky for us, he was game about being called repeatedly). Bourdain had plenty to say about vegetarianism, food trucks, hunger and mediocrity.


Plant's Jason Sellers wants to know if you would be willing to visit his vegan restaurant to "quell some of that open animosity with some open-mindedness."

Listen, I'm perfectly OK with vegetarians practicing whatever they want to do. I just think they make for bad travelers. That's what pisses me off. If you're eating vegan for religious reasons, fine. What you do in your home — or hometown even — in the industrialized world, I'm OK with that. That's your personal choice. I think the notion that you can travel — and I'm not talking about Rome or Paris, of course you can call ahead and say, "do you have any vegetarian options?" You can't do that in the developing world without offending people ... It's awkward and hurtful to go to grandma's house and turn down the turkey. I just see it as rude and incurious.

OK, so thing the first: kudos to Mackensy.  There's this nice and not-too-subtle Bourdain's-a-bit-of-a-drunk-and-can't-be-bothered-to-remember-when-he-was-here bit.  Then there's the inclusion of the backhanded compliment that we're a "hip island of enlightenment" in what I can only assume is a state of redneck provincialism, which counts as nothing more than an insult to the entire state of North Carolina.  But I love Mackensy mostly because she's always been supportive of Jason, has always helped him promote his work, going so far as to mention both Jason and Plant prior to introducing Sandy Krebs, the new chef at the Laughing Seed, in an interview that she conducted last week with Krebs.

So back to that Bourdain interview.

First of all, Bourdain's response doesn't really seem to answer the question, to respond to the invitation to break bread and to "quell some of that open animosity with open mindedness."  My friend Lori started a Facebook page devoted to getting Bourdain to Plant.  And I know that there are people out there who will be openly protesting, because of his harsh anti-vegetarian rhetoric, Bourdain's presence in Asheville.  In Jason's question is a genuine effort to engage in dialogue, and it's an effort that is met with complete dismissal.  And not even dismissal: Bourdain's response is a rehash of his tired diatribe against non-carnivous diets.

At least this time, he doesn't invoke the term "hezbollah."

Second -- and apropos of absolutely nothing -- Bourdain goes off on how offensive vegetarianism is to people who live in the "developing world."  We're in Asheville, but whatever.  

Of course, Bourdain's "developing world" argument completely ignores the fact that the Western world, the so-called "developed" world, has historically been the part of the world where meat has been central to diet; in terms of diet, many of the cultures of the so-called "developing world" have been based on a starch with animal protein added only occasionally.  In The Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol J. Adams links increased meat eating with capitalism and patriarchy in the West and with racism towards plant-based cultures: “into the twentieth century the notion was that meat eating contributed to the Western world’s prominence” (31).  As support, she quotes nineteenth-century English physician George Beard’s analysis of the superiority of “civilized” meat-eating peoples over the “rice-eating Hindoo and Chinese and the potato-eating Irish peasant” who were all kept in subjugation to the English, which he refers to as a “nation of beef-eaters” (qtd. in Adams 31).

Third: "vegetarians make for bad travelers," says Bourdain.  My sense is that stupid arrogant carnivores make for bad travelers when they turn down the hospitality of their vegan hosts, eh?  Oh, and both Jason and I have been to this so-called third world and eaten vegan and had really significant discussions with people we've supposedly offended.  Anywhere on the planet, I imagine, people are, and should be, willing to talk about what they eat and why they eat it just as much as they should be willing to engage in any other political discourse -- and in our experience, they have been.  

People elsewhere -- people in the "developing world" -- aren't such children that they need protection from differences of opinion, or differences in diet; they don't need to be championed by the patronizing impulse of someone like Bourdain.  What he does when he makes his pro-developing world argument is to speak for the developing world.  And don't let Bourdain's rhetoric convince you that food isn't political -- or that it's only political in the sense that veganism functions as a silencing of other perspectives; the opposite seems to be more accurate.  Vegetarianism and veganism function as affronts to Bourdain's white male carnivorous Western privilege: his speaking for other cultures is more of a silencing than an act of communal eating.  

Anthony: pretend to give a shit about "other" cultures.  Use this argument to sound like a humanitarian.  Gorge yourself on the foods of "other" cultures.  Come home.  Get drunk.  Talk shit.

Then: "What you do in your home — or hometown even — in the industrialized world, I'm OK with that." And then: "it's awkward and hurtful to go to grandma's house and turn down the turkey. I just see it as rude and incurious."  Grandma doesn't live "in the industrialized world?"  Fallacy from tradition much?  Just cause something's been the case, it should always be the case?  People have always eaten turkey, at grandma's house (in the industrialized world); therefore, people should always turkey at Grandma's house.  

Perhaps a bad analogy: I had a great uncle who died when I was about 15.  When I was very young, he sat me down and made me repeat after him: "eeny, meeny, miny, moe.  Catch a nigger by the toe."  As I said, I was very young.  I did what he asked.  What's the harm, right?  He'd always used that word, I suspect.  Refusing to repeat after him would have been "awkward and hurtful."  

I can't help but think of a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving when reading Bourdain's quote above.  Thanksgiving, the holiday with which I (and I would imagine most U.S. citizens) associate turkey and grandma, is based on a colonial model of genocide.  Turkey, likewise. At least in its current, often factory farmed incarnation.  The Meleagris gallopa, wild North American turkey, was a symbol of sacrifice for many native peoples: "the spirit of turkey is free, and opens up the channels between us and others on a meaningful level."  Open channels allow for communication, even about such subjects as why one might not want to eat turkey.

Oh, and "rude and incurious"?  That's what you are, at least in the developing world, if you don't eat meat.  Sounds more like Bourdain than anyone: rude not to respond to Mackensy's question.  Incurious not to take Jason up on the invitation.

Anyway: I did an internet search for "Moby contact information."  Moby will be in town for Moogfest tomorrow.  We called the number that came up. The person who answered is no longer his agent, but he forwarded our invitation to break bread on to Moby's current representation.  That was yesterday.  

Today, we got a call letting us know that Moby will be at Plant for lunch tomorrow.  All it took was an invitation, an offer to break bread, here in the "first" world.  And this is not a plug for Moby...except that it is.  Thanks, man.


  1. You should turn this into a letter to the Xpress.

  2. I have seen this guy eat a rectum of a cow when visiting a tribe in africa, just so he doesn't offends his hosts.
    So i can at least say that he respects other countries cultures more than vegans.

    It just seems to me that poor people around the world seems to appreciate what they can have on the table, because thats one of the few luxuries they can have.
    Unlike privileged Vegans.

  3. He ate a cow rectum not to offend his hosts? He ate a cow rectum in order to sensationalize his hosts, to offer his audiences in the west a salacious bit of third-world diet over which they could go, "ew. gross." Bourdain ate a cow rectum because he's a fame whore. You watched him eat a cow rectum so you could peer, from your place of privilege, into the world of people who are Othered by Bourdain's first world perspective. White man in Africa going native and eating with the "tribe." Whatever.

  4. Oh, and, by the way, Filmexpert, Africa is not a country.

  5. God, there are vegan and vegetarian people everywere in the world. In fact I currently live in a poor country in south east asia and locals have plenty of vegetarian and even vegan options aimed to the same locals, not just tourists. The "offending" people argument is a pretty shit excuse. He probably hates them because he doesn't know how to cook/sell good vegetarian meals.