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AlexForbes

Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw

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What if someone does think its unethical to do though? It sounds like you're saying that there are limits to someone having such a belief: at some point it's not acceptable to think that way. If someone thinks that way though, they do and I'm not sure it's fair to say to a person that they just can't always have their convictions

I think you're getting to the most problematic idea in Bourdain's piece. That it's not ok, as he puts it, to "take your beliefs on the road."

It's an easy idea to swallow when you're dealing with beliefs presumeably grounded in nothing more than economic privilege, and ones concerning issues like whether or not to eat pho.

But taken more broadly it's a troubling concept. As I read it, it could be seen as an endorsement of ethical relativism, and all the ugliness that lurks down that particular rabbit hole. Ideas like, "child labor is wrong back home, but it's perfectly ok here, because their culture accepts it. So I'm going to buy this cool cheap handbag!"

Unfortunately the alternative, taken to it's logical extreme, means acting like an activist and a scold at every opportunity ... a good invitation to the Italian grandma to kick your hippy ass (and comfortable shoes) to the curb.

Makes me wonder how many Italian grandmothers would will be willing to eat a bowl of pho, which goes back to my point that Bourdain's reasoning is based on applying different rules to different people.

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He is not writing a formal, fully carefully written academic treatise. Taking his comments (or a forum comment, for that matter) "more broadly" or "to it's logical extreme" would not be appropriate and very likely not representative of the intent or belief.

Sure, and this why I enjoy the piece and even agree with it mostly, in spite of problems with the argument. And I think those problems can still merit a discussion, because they're relevant beyond the article. Bourdain has raised some important questions without having resolved them.


Notes from the underbelly

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Makes me wonder how many Italian grandmothers would will be willing to eat a bowl of pho, which goes back to my point that Bourdain's reasoning is based on applying different rules to different people.

Your point is based entirely on conjecture. Wonder all you want about B's position on Italian Grandmas and pho, but he says nothing explicitly about it. His only example of different rules for different people involves religion, and we've already hammered on this problem.


Notes from the underbelly

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Makes me wonder how many Italian grandmothers would will be willing to eat a bowl of pho, which goes back to my point that Bourdain's reasoning is based on applying different rules to different people.
Your point is based entirely on conjecture. Wonder all you want about B's position on Italian Grandmas and pho, but he says nothing explicitly about it. His only example of different rules for different people involves religion, and we've already hammered on this problem.

Never mind what percentage gets the opportunity to refuse; what percentage would refuse if the situation arose?

Why does it matter?

It matters because it is the principle that is in question, not the opportunity to exercise it.

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It's just that I raised my eyebrows when I saw the whole "it's ok if it's for religion" thing.

It's important to keep this in context. AB is talking about accepting hospitality. It's one thing if you tell your mother in law that you can't eat her pot roast because you are a Hindu and can't eat beef. It's quite another thing if you say that you feel that slaughtering helpless animals is immoral.

The former is a limitation you have (had) placed on yourself. The latter is a tacit accusation of immorality on behalf of the cook.

See, this is exactly the point of view I am rejecting. You imply here that religion is something that someone else forces upon you, and therefore you have to act in a certain way. I don't agree with this at all. Religion is something that you believe in, that you choose to follow. Now there are plenty of examples of people who are religious in name only and do not practice their religion - often this is because they consider their religion a part of their culture, but not something that means a big deal to them personally. So for instance a person might still call themself Hindu even though they don't do puja or have any real belief in any of the theology and philosophy. So that Hindu might actually be more relaxed about or more likely to eat beef and other meat anyway (once again, please note that not all practicing Hindus are vegetarian anyway). On the other hand, a practicing Hindu who very much believes in their religion may not eat meat. But this is a personal choice, a belief that is important to them, not something they are "forced" to do. What I am saying is that many people have non religious beliefs and values that are very important to them, and should be treated with just as much respect.

Also, I don't think you have to full out say "slaughtering animals is morally wrong" in order to avoid eating meat whilst travelling. When I'm travelling I am quite capable of ordering food that is suitable for my diet. And if someone offered me non-vegetarian food, I am also quite capable of politely turning it down without causing offense. There are several options: I might just say that I am vegetarian (without mentioning moral implications) or that I am fasting. Both these options are quite accepted in India, and I expect that other Asian countrys including Thailand would also be very familiar with them. If you didn't feel comfortable saying these things, you could just say that you didn't feel that well or that hungry, and either accept a lighter (and vegetarian!) foodstuff instead or offer to take the meal away with you and eat it later (and then you can offer it to a meat eating friend!).

Incidentally, I have never had any bad comments from people about my vegetarianism whilst travelling. Some people are politely amused, others are curious. I never push or preach, I just quietly mention that I don't eat meat, and I only do so if it is necessary for me to give an explanation for why I am not eating a certain dish. If there are a variety of dishes on a table and only one of them is suitable for me, I will eat it without complaint and without acting hard done-by. In India, meat eaters will often jovially tell me that a particular meat dish is really good, and that they won't tell anyone if I try it! But this is mostly in jest, and no-one is really expecting me to eat it. Other people tell me about how they are vegetarian on a certain day of the week, or during a certain festival, or that they have always wanted to try and be veggie full time but that they have a weakness for a certain meaty dish! Basically, I have always found that people are a lot more accepting and relaxed about the issue than Bourdain suggests.

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See, this is exactly the point of view I am rejecting. You imply here that religion is something that someone else forces upon you, and therefore you have to act in a certain way. I don't agree with this at all. Religion is something that you believe in, that you choose to follow.

I thought I was being precise when I wrote "...you have (had) placed on yourself." Either you have placed it on yourself according to your interpretation of the writings, or have had it imposed based on the tenets of your faith. Either way, you believe you are following the rules made by a higher power, not your personal opinion.

Our personal opinions are important, but there are many situations where we should just sit on them. I think most of us would agree that a requirement that women wear burqas is abhorrent. But should a western woman in Saudi Arabia flaunt her western style attire and lack of any head covering? Probably not. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Laura Bush have all donned scarves in some circumstances.

But another thing to note is that even Anthony Bourdain does not have a hard and fast rule. He draws a line at monkey brains.

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Either way, you believe you are following the rules made by a higher power, not your personal opinion.

If you don't agree with it personally, then why do you follow that religion? Anyway, this is a moot point because most people's moral reasons for eating animals could be said to not be their "personal" opinion anyway - many philoshophers, religious people, general thinkers have written about and/ or discussed the ethics of eating animals.

Anyway, that's me done. As I said, this is a topic where it's hard to come to some kind of agreement or compromise.

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If you don't agree with it personally, then why do you follow that religion?

To a religious person I think that's like saying "Well, if you don't agree with your parents then why did you choose them?"

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If you don't agree with it personally, then why do you follow that religion?

To a religious person I think that's like saying "Well, if you don't agree with your parents then why did you choose them?"

I wish more people behaved as Jenni imagines ... challenge their beliefs and informing them with reason and skepticism. But in my experience they more often behave as Rob describes.

Challenging dogmatic beliefs with a rational argument is like trying to motivate a frozen mastodon with a riding crop.


Notes from the underbelly

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If you don't agree with it personally, then why do you follow that religion?

To a religious person I think that's like saying "Well, if you don't agree with your parents then why did you choose them?"

No it isn't. Anyway, I promise this will be my last post in this discussion!

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I think Bourdain is at his finest when describing food, the process of preparing it, and the people who passionately do so.

The description of the guy who cuts up fish at Le Bernardin was spellbinding, and I would love to read much more of that. Those stories are out there, and I hope he'll consider doing more of them, since he does them better than just about anybody.

Most of the rest could be classified as rant or updated rant, and I took that the same way I take my friends' rants: sometimes entertaining, often self-serving or slightly off the mark, but that's a human being for you. Sometimes it's best just to sit back and listen, not take most of it too seriously, and enjoy the enjoyable parts.

The other kinds of writing - the character sketches of people who cook, descriptions of food and how it tastes, well, the man is a master. Wow. Makes me hungry for what he's describing, and hungry to read more about it. For that reason, I'll buy his next books, too, whether I agree with what he's ranting about or not.

Edited to add: I appreciated what he had to say about dining at Alinea. I still aspire to do that one day, but he's right when he talks about considering how we feel after the meal in our assessment of the meal itself. Too much food is too much food, and we need to stop glorifying gluttony. Tasting menus are a great way to enjoy "the best of" a chef, but knowing when to stop is a valuable culinary skill.


Edited by jgm (log)

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In terms of the discussion about vegetarianism, I found this article on Salon today to be interesting. It addresses the question of "can I justify maintaining my vegetarianism in a culture where food is not so readily available as it is at home?" in a very insightful manner.


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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In terms of the discussion about vegetarianism, I found this article on Salon today to be interesting. It addresses the question of "can I justify maintaining my vegetarianism in a culture where food is not so readily available as it is at home?" in a very insightful manner.

Interesting article. Thanks for the post.

I imagine this would dispell Bourdain's "idea of a vegetarian traveler in comfortable shoes waving away the hospitality" of a foreign guest.

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In terms of the discussion about vegetarianism, I found this article on Salon today to be interesting. It addresses the question of "can I justify maintaining my vegetarianism in a culture where food is not so readily available as it is at home?" in a very insightful manner.

Interesting article. Thanks for the post.

I imagine this would dispell Bourdain's "idea of a vegetarian traveler in comfortable shoes waving away the hospitality" of a foreign guest.

Yes, because one person's POV dispells the notion that there are some "vegetarian travaler[s} in comfortable shoes" that actually stick to their beliefs and continue to shun the foods and hospitality of their hosts. :rolleyes:

Having lived in a country where pure vegetarianism is uncommon, my experience has shown me that Bourdain's idea of the vegetarian traveler is more in line with reality. But that's just my experience, and I would surely refrain from generalizing my own experience in order to nullify anyone else's.

May I also note that the person who wrote the article was not merely a traveller, but was someone was in the country to learn about and experience the culture for a longer term. I suspect the actions and outlook of vegetarians who are short-term visitors vs. those who are long-term might be different.

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In terms of the discussion about vegetarianism, I found this article on Salon today to be interesting. It addresses the question of "can I justify maintaining my vegetarianism in a culture where food is not so readily available as it is at home?" in a very insightful manner.

Interesting article. Thanks for the post.

I imagine this would dispell Bourdain's "idea of a vegetarian traveler in comfortable shoes waving away the hospitality" of a foreign guest.

Yes, because one person's POV dispells the notion that there are some "vegetarian travaler[s} in comfortable shoes" that actually stick to their beliefs and continue to shun the foods and hospitality of their hosts. :rolleyes:

Having lived in a country where pure vegetarianism is uncommon, my experience has shown me that Bourdain's idea of the vegetarian traveler is more in line with reality. But that's just my experience, and I would surely refrain from generalizing my own experience in order to nullify anyone else's.

May I also note that the person who wrote the article was not merely a traveller, but was someone was in the country to learn about and experience the culture for a longer term. I suspect the actions and outlook of vegetarians who are short-term visitors vs. those who are long-term might be different.

I regret making any comment on the article. I truly do. I made a brief statement that was apparently too brief and it was my folly for doing so. Never-the-less, thanks mkahara, thanks for posting the article as I do think it fits well with the topic in general.

With that said, generalizations are just that. They are not accurate reflections of a community. Clearly, despite Bourdain's incorrect assumptions to the contrary, vegetarians are capable of making decisions about how they accept hospitality. Even you note "I suspect the actions and outlook of vegetarians who are short-term visitors vs. those who are long-term might be different," which is to say that some vegetarians may make different decisions than other vegetarians. From my perspective at least, such a comment would indicate there would be some prudency in not making blanket statements regarding vegetarians as it is evident not all vegetarians are going to act in the same manner. Justifying a disdain for a group of people becuase some of them "actually stick to their beliefs" seems rather ignorant.

As for short term vs long term, are we now at the point where long term vegetarian travelers are okay, it's just the short term tourist vegetarians that are assholes? Because that is beyond ridiculous. Tourists are typically not held to the same societal norms and there is typically an understanding tourists/foreigners/travelers would not understand all customs within a society. The vast majority of vegetarians could travel to a different country and exist in that country quite happily without a single person ever knowing they were a vegetarian to begin with.

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Anthony Bourdain sponsored an essay contest for Medium Raw not too long ago. The topic was, "What does it mean to cook well?". You can find my entry here and read the others as well. While I didn't win, I still wanted to share my essay here on eGullet, a website that over time has taught me a lot about what it means to cook well...

Cooking well is what the little old woman in front of me does. She has approximately five teeth, one good eye, and two hands that orchestrate the movement of nearly sixty gargantuan shrimp on the grill in front of her. Her vocabulary and mine don’t overlap at all, but she knows what I want, and she smiles as I watch her work.

Those aren’t shrimp she’s grilling, actually, but river prawns plucked from the Chao Phraya River here in Bangkok. From left to right in front of her, the crustacean color spectrum goes from a raw, translucent blue to a charcoal-kissed pink-orange. If the fire gets too low – below what’s left of her eyebrows – she grabs a small bellows and fans it back up. I laugh to myself when I compare her stature to that of the burly grunts I’ve seen work the grill station back home. And I practically giggle with delight when I taste what she’s made. Smoky, juicy, and plump on their own, the prawns are better still dunked in a fiery sauce that couldn’t have been much more than just fish sauce, vinegar, and some searing hot chilies.

It’s a bittersweet moment, as she might not be back in this same spot tomorrow, and I know I won’t be. I’ll be on a plane back home, where the shrimp are a little smaller; the cooks, a little bigger; and the exhaust fumes from the cars and the grills of the sidewalk food vendors might not mingle in the same, beautiful way.

Fortunately, cooking well is also what my three-year-old niece does, and she doesn’t even use fire. She’ll help me chop the tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos that grow in my parents’ back yard. But first, she helps me pick them. I want her to always know where food comes from. It doesn’t always come from the supermarket in those shiny plastic-wrapped, Styrofoam-padded packages, I tell her. Vegetables grow in the dirt. And she knows exactly how that dirt feels, as we dig around to yank up an onion or two. She’s got my mother’s gardening hat on – eight sizes too big for her – and a wicker basket in her hand. I won’t ever forget this picture.

Back inside, we make pico de gallo, a chunky Mexican salsa made (in our kitchen, at least) with just those three ingredients and a generous splash of lime juice. She and I somehow always manage to make it a little too spicy, but by now I’m not sure I’d want it any other way.

A bunch of scraps remain on the cutting board – onion skins, tomato stems, jalapeno seeds – and I’m about to throw them out. “Not there, Aaron,” she scolds me. “There.” She points to the compost bin. A three-year-old understands the idea of composting, of giving back to the soil that gave us lunch. I have a sneaking suspicion that this little girl will be cooking well for a long, long time.

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Tupac, what a beautiful picture you painted with your words!

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Good read so far, quite shallow views but very entertaining.


Sommelier at The Three Chimneys, Isle of Skye, UK :: www.oscarjmalek.com

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I don't get the massive vegetarian discussion in this thread. From what I gather, he's basically speaking from his experience of being invited to eat with a local family, and basically being gracious and thankful for whatever they serve.

It has nothing to do with when you are paying for a meal, more when you are a guest in someone's home. It's more along the lines of "hey, I don't want to offend someone who has taken the time and effort to create a meal for me, so even if I morally detest meat, I should just be a good guest and eat it". There are several interviews he's given where he's illustrated his point much better than he did in this piece though, I will admit.

What I don't entirely understand is his link to religion, but I assume that comes from the wide vegetarian culture of India (since that's the example he cites), and the fact that religion is so entwined with the culture that it is pretty much undistinguishable. My contempt for religion makes me find this point a little weird, though I suppose in many third-world communities where a wider, westernised education is scarce, most people stick to the teachings religiously, so to speak.

It's a great book though. His chapters on Justo Thomas, Food Porn and David Chang are worth the price alone. It allows us to see a much more mellow Bourdain, and how travelling for ten years has changed his perspective on a lot of issues he raised in Kitchen Confidential, and firmed up his beliefs on others.


James.

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I don't get the massive vegetarian discussion in this thread.

I am coming to the conclusion that a not-small percentage of vegetarians will make EVERY thread a vegetarian discussion whenever possible.


Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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