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Anthony Bourdain Was a True Ally

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Anthony Bourdain was a brilliant chef. But following news of his death today, he will be missed for far more than just food. Through his books, his shows, and his words and actions, Bourdain proved himself time and again to be a brilliant, compassionate, adventurous man. He expressed and encouraged empathy and understanding of other cultures. More recently, he also took a stand as a strong ally to the #MeToo movement.

Bourdain had credited his relationship with Asia Argento–one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers–with opening his eyes to the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault women face every day. But Bourdain didn’t just limit his outspoken compassion to one woman; he didn’t rest on assumptions that he was a naturally good ally because he had a mother/girlfriend/whatever whom he loved. He instead felt inspired to “reexamine [his] life.”

Last fall, he reflected on and expressed regret for his role in the restaurant industry’s pervasive “meathead” culture. While he said he never understood the “macho” persona others saw in him, he began to very thoughtfully analyze how that perception impacted others, especially through the lens of #MeToo and allyship.

He told Slate, “I had to ask myself, particularly given some things that I’m hearing, and the people I’m hearing them about: Why was I not the sort of person, or why was I not seen as the sort of person, that these women could feel comfortable confiding in? I see this as a personal failing.”

He expanded on those thoughts a few months later, in an essay for Medium. In response to the accusations of sexual misconduct that had been made against fellow chef Mario Batali restaurateur Ken Friedman, Bourdain wrote that any professional admiration he felt towards the men was “irrelevant.”

He again expressed disappointment at his own unknowing lack of allyship, writing, “I will not waste anybody’s time with expressions of shock, surprise, or personal upset, beyond saying that I am ashamed that I was clearly not the kind of person that women friends who knew — and had stories to tell — felt comfortable confiding in.”

In these current circumstances, one must pick a side. I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women. Not out of virtue, or integrity, or high moral outrage — as much as I’d like to say so — but because late in life, I met one extraordinary woman with a particularly awful story to tell, who introduced me to other extraordinary women with equally awful stories. I am grateful to them for their courage, and inspired by them. That doesn’t make me any more enlightened than any other man who has begun listening and paying attention. It does make me, I hope, slightly less stupid.

Throughout all of this, he also publically condemned men like Alec Baldwin who would attempt to smear women speaking out.

Earlier this year, he said to The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, “I started speaking about it out of a sense of real rage. 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.”

Anthony Bourdain had a way of making us feel like everything he cared about was incredibly personal. Probably because it was. He built his career around food, but his real gift was using food to forge connections and express curiosity and empathy.

Anthony Bourdain was a stellar example of what it meant to be a compassionate human and a strong ally. He will be deeply missed.

(image: ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.