This blog is an odd combination of things. To try to describe it would be boring and it could be summed up in one sentence: I am a writer who writes about travel, food, and Pop Anthropology. But that’s not really it, at least not to me. It’s far more interesting to instead explain where my inspiration comes from.
My first feeling of connection to Anthony Bourdain was actually about travel far more than it was about food. No Reservations aired in 2005 when I was 12 years old. I can’t really remember if I started watching it right when it aired, but in any case it came into my life at the start of my teenage years, which for me, like so many other small town teenagers, would be filled with a longing to escape, to explore, and to expand my world.
I traveled a lot as a kid. My dad is Spanish and I myself was born in the Canary Islands. I’m lucky enough to look back and remember my childhood beach days on Playa Las Canteras on Gran Canaria. On the list of official things my parents taught me, right next to ‘don’t talk to strangers’ and what a period is, was how to read a boarding pass and navegate an airport. So I was certainly not stuck in my small Connecticut town the way many others are. Even so, No Reservations showed me places that at that time I had never considered traveling to or might not have even heard of. Of course, it was about the food (that part would really get to me later) but it was his writing, the poetry he brought to his travels that planted in me a deep romantic vision of travel – a need to experience sensations and to go far beyond the checklist. Sometimes when I travel I still hear his voice narrating my experiences. But more and more it’s my own voice that I hear, deeply inspired by his style.
The food came later and all at once. I made the decision to cook (and it was very much a conscious decision) as soon as I moved into my first apartment in Montreal. Always a highly independent person, I was excited to be on my own. At 18 I was only legally an adult, but I was excited to start building this grown-up version of me who would have the instinct and the skills to bring all the best things the world has to offer into my own life – and the best thing I could really think of was good food. I would not waste precious time eating Kraft Dinner, falling into cliché simply because it was acceptable for someone of my age to do so. Perhaps that’s why I have prematurely become the kind of person who tries to solve every emotional problem with homemade carrot and ginger soup. Also, what kind of 23 year-old considers hosting a dinner party for 10 the idea of a perfect Friday night?
In the introduction of his cookbook Appetites (my current bible), Bourdain says:
“I feel uncontrollable urgest to smother the people I love with food. I’ve become the sort of passive-aggressive yenta or Italian grandmother stereotype from films who’s always urging people, ‘Eat! Eat!’ and sulking inconsolably when they don’t” (2).
I’m inspired by this quote not only because he so casually uses the word urgest, but also because if a globe-trotting TV superstar can embrace grandmother-like tendancies, why can’t I?
But I also love him because he sees food as so much more than just sustanence or yumminess, meals as so much more than a collection of ingredients. As an aspiring anthropologist I can’t ever take anything at face value, especially something as complex and expansive as food. Bourdain reconizes its power to connect. He is able to see peoples lives through their food and understand them so much more deeply because he eats with them. Food makes people feel comfortable, so they talk to him. During an interview for The New Yorker Radio he said:
“If you ask people simple things like ‘what food makes you happy?’ they also start telling you these rather extraordinary things some of the time” (15:29).
When I heard that I started thinking about what foods make me happy and I realized that each and every one was connected to a story. I love thumb print cookies because every December my mom used to let my sister and me stay home one day to bake Christmas cookies with her and I loved the way it felt to push my thumb into the dough. I love bocadillos de jamon Serrano because it was the first thing my family would look for after getting off the plane and arriving in Spain.
Bourdain has said about his show that it is never just about the food but also about the people who make it and the people who eat it, and I want to write about just that.
Not that that makes me original. Go ahead, Google “blogs about food and life” and see how many pages come up. So I can’t deny how much of my writing here will be about me, will be for me, really, so I pay attention and remember.
“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”
Joan Didion said that in an article called On Keeping a Notebook that pretty much changed my life. I originally read it during the last year of my anthropology undergrad in a class called Creative Ethnographic Writing. Didion is a journalist not an anthropologist, but the way she researches and writes is so centered on watching people and talking to people that I would be comfortable arguing that it’s a form of ethnography, a sort of pop anthropology, if you will. After reading On Keeping a Notebook for class I swiftly read everything else Didion had written, my favourite being her collection of essays entitled The White Album. It’s home to essays on topics from mansions in California to the women’s movement to Bogota, Colombia. She writes about all these topics in a way that is at once professional and accessible. I’m excited by the possibility of writing like her, on topics like hers, but from an anthropological point of view.
Although my official focus as I begin my masters in anthropology is the intersection of childhood and environment, there are so many other topics that interest me. Everything from house plants to Electroswing is infinitely more interesting when discussed from a cultural point of view. I can’t spend the next seven years researching everything, but to each of them I can light a match.