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Anthony Bourdain on pig guts and fellow star foodies

November 9, 2012

by Kimberly A. Suta

I don’t know what I expected of Anthony Bourdain’s tour, The Guts and Glory, but by the look of his poster, which included a tattoo-like illustration of a bloody heart, kitchen knives, and talons gripping chicken bones, I thought we might just be in for a wild ride. I was wrong. Bourdain, in jeans and cowboy boots, spent the first 15 minutes of his talk at Trinity University last night ranting about Paula Dean and her buttery crimes against America.

Healthy eating is a “patriotism issue,” according to Bourdain, who feels we have to be ready to take action at all times; he doesn’t want some fat ass blocking a crashed airplane’s emergency exit. Understood. He then moved on to lampooning other popular Food Network stars, offering up a few fat jokes about Man v. Food’s, Adam Richman, to an audience full of overweight foodies, who ironically found it hilarious.

Overall, the talk felt like it lacked a sense of direction, as if Bourdain couldn’t really decide what he wanted to talk about or what he had to say. He relied too heavily on lame jokes and easy laughs. He showed a picture of a fictional action figure, the Smokin’ Tony Bourdain Doll, complete with a carton of cigarettes. He showed clips from No Reservations where he was either drunk, high, getting destroyed by an ATV, eating rectum of warthog, or all of the above.

I think it’s telling that a self-proclaimed recovering heroin addict turned parent who has had a great impact on foodies around the world very self-deprecatingly refuses to embrace his status as a role model. During the Q&A, a young woman walked up to the mic and in tears professed that Bourdain was more of a father to her than her own parent. An overly humble, embarrassed Bourdain refused to accept such praise.

But eventually he got around to what I’d been waiting for: simply doing what he does best – telling stories that are delightfully bawdy and inexplicably sagacious. He regaled the audience with stories about his discoveries of “the heart and soul” of cultures through observing what they ate.

When shooting an episode in Cairo, the government tried to block them from filming Egyptians eating ful, a daily staple made of mashed fava beans, for fear their own people might realize how repressed they really are and, worst case, rise up against the government. One of the crew distracted the minders by faking the onset of severe diarrhea so they could get the shot. “I’m not taking credit for Arab Spring,” Bourdain joked, “I’m just saying that food is important. Food is worth celebrating. Food is worth obsessing about.”

Boardain, whose show will be moving to CNN in 2013, referred to himself as a “weird moral relativist,” who manages to find common ground with the strangest of characters through a shared love of meat. He’s fascinated by how much “broke ass” people can do with almost nothing. It wasn’t a rich guy who discovered escargot, it was some destitute farmer who saw a slug in his garden and thought if he put enough butter and garlic on it, it might be edible.

“The history of the world is on your plate,” Bourdain said. If he had a message to impart to the crowd, I believe it was to encourage them to eat good food with people different from themselves. “There’s very little time on this planet, so try everything,” he urged. If nothing else, we can find commonalities with each other through food. Of the Tea Party, for example, he said, “What we have in common is beer and barbeque.” It’s not much, but sometimes it’s enough.

Kimberly is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and filmmaker.

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