Bourdain On Vegetarians

I went back and forth about whether or not to write this post. I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain, and as such I have heard him say many disparaging things about vegetarians. Usually it’s for entertainment value, or because he knows he will get a rise out of people by saying it, and it’s usually amusing enough for me not to care. But in Monday’s “No Reservations: Mozambique” he said something so monumentally inane that I was shocked. In describing a village feast that involved killing a goat, he mentioned that they get very little meat, and subsist mainly on yucca.

What promoters of vegetarianism maybe don’t realize is that much of the world already is living a vegetarian lifestyle, and they ain’t too fucking happy about it.

(quoted from Eater)

What he seems to be implying is that vegetarians would rather poor people starve than eat meat. Is he joking? I can’t imagine anyone in the world thinks that, let alone vegetarians. I would wager that any society that can only afford to slaughter an animal every few months takes better care of that animal than any farmer in the United States.

When I think of vegetarianism, I think of vegetarianism by choice. It’s only in a society that can afford to give up meat that being a vegetarian has any meaning. What Mr. Bourdain is talking about in this village isn’t vegetarianism — it’s a subsistence diet.

So what about those of us who can afford to give it up? What it comes down to is an individual’s choice. Is eating well worth killing an animal? I have decided that I am not okay with that, but that’s my decision and I can’t force it on anyone else. When I really think about it, veganism is the logical end point of that line of reasoning, but I have decided that I like pizza too much. In other words, I am willing to let animals in dairy farms be treated poorly for my own personal enjoyment. Other people have to pick their own battles. What I do believe is that people should think about these things.

Like Mr. Bourdain, I have eaten at some of Manhattan’s most prestigious restaurants, and like Mr. Bourdain I have eaten in roadside stands in Vietnam. Does the fact that I have done so without eating meat make me in any way superior to him? Absolutely not. It simply means that we all have options.

Imagine if everyone in the United States ate a quarter less meat annually. I don’t know exactly how much that would be, but I’m sure it’s a lot of meat. Now imagine that meat surplus, which would normally go to Americans who don’t really need it, went instead to those poor villagers in Mozambique. Would that make Mr. Bourdain be in favor of cutting back on meat eating?

I am not going to do anything so dramatic as stop watching “No Reservations”. As I mentioned, I am a fan, not only of the show but of Mr. Bourdain himself, and his voice. I think the food world is a better place with him in it. Pity he doesn’t feel the same way about me.

  • http://www.RodzillaReviews.com Rodzilla

    That’s not what I took the quote to mean. I do think it was a shot at vegetarians, but I don’t think he was implying that vegetarians would rather people starve than eat meat.

    As for the rest of what you’ve said, I agree, it’s a personal choice. Veganism particularly has never made sense to me because it seems that animal products can still be used without exploitation, but so long as someone’s food choices aren’t having a negative impact on others.. I don’t see any reason to take issue with them. :)

  • http://www.embarrassmentofriches.net Kate (Embarrassment of Riches)

    This is such an eloquently-written post. Thank you Howard.

    Bourdain has always irked me with his disdain for vegetarian travelers who choose not to abandon their beliefs to try local delicacies. But, like you, I have tried to let his judgmental proclamations roll off my back, figuring he is just trying to get a rise out of folks.

    PS I have always wanted to try City Grit and will definitely keep an eye out for a another vegetarian evening (I hope they do more!).

  • http://www.eattoblog.com Howard

    @Rodzilla – i took some time to think about the quote before writing this, because i know i can be kind of reactionary. i just can’t come up with an alternate reading. what’s your interpretation?

    @Kate – if they have a mailing list you should definitely check out city grit, it was well worth it. thanks for the support!

  • http://www.RodzillaReviews.com Rodzilla

    Howard, I didn’t see the show – so perhaps I missed some of the context which led you to your interpretation.

    I just took it as vegetarianism is not the easiest choice for sustenance, and that many people in less fortunate countries would love the opportunity to have more meat in their diet.

    I didn’t see anything (and maybe I missed it) about vegetarians being happy about the lack of meat in said diets.

  • http://www.eattoblog.com Howard

    @Rodzilla – yeah, it may have been the context. but even out of context, he seems to be saying to vegetarians, “see, these people don’t want to be vegetarians”. which to me implies that someone is going around to poor villagers around the world and suggesting that they be vegetarians (otherwise why bring it up?). certainly people have suggested that BOURDAIN eat less meat, but is he then equating himself to these villagers? what he said makes no sense either way.