Anthony Bourdain and Eating Local

June 13, 2018

I can’t profess to know a whole lot about the late Anthony Bourdain, or to be all that familiar with his books and television shows. Reading the tributes to him since his death, though, and speaking with friends about what he and his work meant to them, has resonated with me in unexpected ways.


Although I don’t have quite the same appetite for adventure – culinary or otherwise – as Bourdain did, I do share a desire to immerse myself in local culture when I travel, and I recognize that food and drink are central to that experience. It’s one reason why Traipse doesn’t just include historic landmarks, but also locally owned businesses.


Bourdain notably defended a North Dakota restaurant critic whose earnest review of Olive Garden went viral as a target of urbane scorn and snark. But even that defense acknowledged that the ubiquity of national chain restaurants, and their central role in the lifestyle of a large segment of the American population, means that understanding (and appreciating) the Olive Garden allows for understanding and appreciating part of the contemporary American experience.


That doesn’t mean that Bourdain did not lament the franchising of national (and global) culture:


“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald's? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria's mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”


-Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly


The homogenization of culture as expressed by chain restaurants can reinforce the idea that fundamentally, we’re all the same. That is a powerful and appealing idea, but also a boring one. As one Bourdain eulogy states, “The ways in which we aren’t [the same], and in which that’s expressed in something as basic and shared as truly in common as eating, are what he sought to find out more about, especially by asking people to talk about them and listening to what they had to say.”


I started Traipse partly because when it comes to traveling in the cities and towns of America I also want it all. I want to listen and learn about what makes a place unique – its history, its artistic community, its “makers”, and of course its cuisine. Through the app I wanted others to have a framework for exploration that step-by-step (literally) reveals those elements, so that when they return home – whether it’s from a visit to their own downtown or a cross-country journey – they will feel like they have been on an adventure. Maybe not as exotic of an adventure as the ones Bourdain often had, but an adventure nonetheless.


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