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I Love Anthony Bourdain, but...

Did anyone else catch the US/Mexico border episode last night? When did the show get so political? I mean, I know a lot of the destinations he goes to, there's such a sense of political sensitivity that you can't help but mention it. The show last night though seem to be 90% political agenda, 10% eating. I want to see more food and less immigration policy talk on the Travel Network. Bring on the Mexican street food, let's talk more about pastor, cabrito, and tamales. Any other thoughts?

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  1. This episode has run about 30 times since it first aired. While it does seem to get political, it is easy to understand Bourdain's passion for the subject. He has spent years working with immigrants from Mexico and South America (some certainly illegal) that have, in his experience, worked harder and more honestly than most of the Americans he's worked with. In light of his experiences, he cannot help but feel strongly about this particular political issue.

    8 Replies
    1. re: notgreg

      Indeed, AB is an opinionated guy and that's part of the deal. I tend to agree with his take on things and if he didn't have a perspective you wouldn't get stuff like the Beruit show, which many would say was political..yet it wasn't. AB is right however, imagine the restaurant industry without immigrants (of any kind) and the cost of produce in the U.S.

      1. re: ML8000

        I think his experience in Beruit changed him. The show he did in Ireland shortly afterward was also more "political," though as you say that's not quite the right word. He had said before that he hoped a love of good food could bring people together and obviously it can't always. He seemed genuinely saddened by the situation in Belfast.

        1. re: Glencora

          I'd say it happened before Beirut. Recall the episode of A Cook's Tour, in Vietnam. Bourdain seems to have a true love and respect for the Vietnamese.

      2. re: notgreg

        Totally agree with notgreg. I think this is an issue that comes easily to him. It's been in his books, he's discussed it in interviews and on his book tour. I think you will see it as overly political if you don't agree with him probably. I thought the food pieces were great...especially the street food scenes (which Bourdain loves so much). I thought it was well done.

        It's important to not only be aware of what you are eating but who is preparing it. And 9 times out of 10 its an immigrant (if you are eating in the US).

        1. re: Elyssa

          I disagree. I actually agree with him politically. However, I think there should have been more food content as there is in his other episodes.

          Usually, at the end of a No Res episode, I feel like I want to hop on a plane the next day and go wherever Tony went. However, this episode, though named Texas/Mexico border, did not really have a region specific focus other than his visit to the border crossing Port of Entry. It's an episode about immigration and border issues in general. I was hoping for more tips on specific places (and items) to chow down in the Nuevo Laredo region, didn't really get that.

            1. re: Glencora

              Been there, wish I had known what Bourdain did :P Would've eaten better.

        2. re: notgreg

          Agreed. This episode aired before or at the beginning of the whole I-hate-Mexicans movement became acceptable to some.

        3. Political? He did an excellent job portraying the deep influence this particular group has on the way we eat today. I guess when we see a story about the positive impact of immigration, someone is automatically being "political."

          I thought this was one of his better shows - and let's face it, no one would be cooking in those restaurants if they didn't have the skills. 4 star dining is 4 star dinging - no one is going to risk their reputation on individuals that can't cook.

          Tony did a show in Season 2 on Mexico - that one featured the sushi chef in Texas in the midst of getting his papers (which made him unable to leave the country) - Tony took a gift and visited the chef's family for a home-cooked meal. That might have been political too - and he ate pleanty of street food in Piedras Negras.

          Tony's shows are not strictly about food. I found the episode on Korea especially moving as I really didn't know much about those caught between the border. To see the show on Vietnam showcasing a country trying to establish itself as a tourist destination instead of a war memory was a rather overt political statement. Even in his two visits to Russia, we've seen the emerging wealth of Russia and how it impacts the food.

          Tony merely dedicated a show to the big white elephant in the room that is the way a good number of us don't think about the individuals that cook our $100/plate meals.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Stephmo

            "Tony's shows are not strictly about food." - Word Stephmo. His shows are as much about food as they are about context - a rare treat in today's journalism (context).

            Only looking at a culture's "artifacts" a little like neocolonialist cultural appropriation, no?

          2. Funny that this episode has been aired over 30 times; last night was the first time I've seen it. I was very pleasantly surprised to hear him repeatedly give credit to the men and women on the lines of the kitchens of many fine dining esatblishments in the US. I personally think it would have been more awkward had he done an episode on Mexico and not mentioned this issue at all. On a side note, I loved his jab at Chili's when he noticed that "south of the border" restaurant actually south of the border!

            1. I absolutely adore that episode. It is so true in so many ways and I think it's one of the best eps of No Res ever.

              1 Reply
              1. He is definately wandering into other arenas beyond food, yet I still find him a facinating personality...I guess we'll have to leave the truly exotic to that Zimmern fellow (with the iron stomach)...

                3 Replies
                1. re: gutreactions

                  I will give Zimmern kudos for trying this stuff but it bugs me that most of the time he can't keep a lot of it down. Especially durrian.

                  Bourdain is always polite to his host and he rarely if ever gags on the food even though he may hate the food.

                  1. re: Phaedrus

                    I'm curious...I always had that suspicion. Did you actually see out takes of the show in between meals?

                    1. re: gutreactions

                      oh, you can see it in his eyes when it's "oh, shit, now I really have to EAT this?"

                      He's pretty easy to read-- you can tell pretty easily when he's unwell for one reason or another, too.

                2. As notgreg has said, the episode has aired many, many times already. It *may* be one of his more "political" shows (the Beirut show is the exception to everything), but it is a) brilliant, b) conveys his passion far more than going up a river to drink warm beer in Indonesia, and c) remember: this is NOT the Food Network, it's the TRAVEL Channel, and ever since the switch/new show, food has played a lesser role as more cultural and other aspects have come into the shows.


                  1. AB is by far my fave food show host and No Res. my fave show. He is by turns hilarious, snarky, poignant and always intelligent. The border show was all of that and more. My favorite bit however is the roasted whole pig basted with coconut water, I can still practically taste and smell that dish, tho' I can't remember which episode it was.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: annabana

                      That was the Indonesia episode. I remember it because I'm an Indonesian immigrant (American citizen now, in case anyone's wondering, in light of this thread), and was kicking myself for not knowing about it when I last visited there.

                      I hope to go back and try it soon. I am sure because of the episode, the restaurant will charge twice as much as it would've before it aired. I'm also looking forward to running into my fellow No Res fans (and Chowhounds) there. I'll be the one who looks like a local but can't speak the language.


                    2. I love that he filmed this episode. I love his passion behind the topic and I also happen to agree with him completely. Keep them coming, I'll keep watching.

                      1. I think his show is more about culture then it is strictly about food. Food is a big part of culture but so is politics. What I see from his show is that people from all over the world really are not all that different. It also shows that we need to learn about other peoples way of life before we can formulate opinions. I think that holds especially true with the immigration issue.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

                          well put - food, culture, politics - inextricably intertwined.

                          1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

                            Agreed. I think if it were only focused on food, it would be on Food Network, not the Travel Channel. I think his aim is to get us to learn more about the culture by participating in traditional activities and/or talking about the politics while showing us the food culture. I would probably feel like something was missing if I watched an Ireland or US/Mexico border show and it had nothing about the local political issues

                            1. re: queencru

                              I like that there's such variety to (aka, lack of consistency about) his shows. You do get a sense of what he is thinking about when he visits wherever. And I love that he doesn't extol virtues of the places he doesn't like, although he efforts to say something good about each place. It reminds me of trips I've been on - some have been great but some have been simply educational in the worst sense.

                              I think with the Mexico show, his choice of an immigrant guide and the guide's experience informed the crafting of the show, a little bit like as happened with the Beirut show... one guide's house was leveled by bombing. There was a lot of talking in that show (short on footage had to be one reason) that worked well, and what a remarkable experience it was.

                              I'm waiting to see what they do next and how the H1N1 travel issues might be mentioned in a newer show (if they are still indeed taping). They travel, eat street food in crowded areas, he loves pig, and one of his lesser-known books was about Typhoid Mary. That all could well result in some interesting observations from Bourdain.

                          2. Bourdain has always thown in his polictical opinion in his shows... For the US/Mexico border episode is unavoidable. Also, I think it's enlightening to see the polictical relationship at that border town and the view from the American locos. Those away from the US border probably imagine people running North willy-nilly like hoards of locust. A lot of that has to do with the media and fear groups like the Minutemen.

                            1. He touched on similar themes in Kitchen Confidential, years before he ever had a TV show.


                              2 Replies
                                1. re: mrporkbelly

                                  I'll say the best nonfiction show at all, outside of a couple news programs and things like Planet Earth. This comment applies to some of his episodes but not others.

                                  The production values are getting better, but it has a priceless informal quality.

                              1. my brother just passed away, and he lived in Eagle Pass. He was a gringo married to a Mexican woman from Piedras-- and he LOVED this episode. He loved that some smarty pants east coast guy (a chef no less) cared enough to climb in a boat and talk to locals about the reality of this complicated place.

                                AB is of my generation. He gets to the heart of things. Food is not just stuffing your face or fame or money-- it's place, people, history, politics. He may be a huckster, but he's an educated and empathetic man. It shows.

                                I've seen the walls the US is building. They are absurd. I've seen the drones fly the border. They're scary but at least they don't blight the landscape.

                                In your memory, Bud: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLlS1G...

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: pickypicky

                                  What a nice comment, pickypicky. Beautiful.

                                  1. re: HillJ

                                    Yes, but it is a difficult situation with varying view points, and I bought the dvd. On one hand I have my lovely wife whose parents were here from Guadalaraja, not legally, but on the other, two Houston police officers and a pregnant woman killed in a carjacking, done by illegals in separate incidents. The line is very blurry indeed, and I don't know if there is a right or wrong.

                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                      If undocumented migrants are responsible for a disproportionate share of the substantial number of murders in this country, then their legal status is relevant. But failing that, I guess I don't understand how the incidental murder of some people would color one's perception of an entire legal category of people.

                                2. Lived in TX for 15 yrs, and that's also one of my favorite episodes.

                                  I strongly disagree with the OP. I find No Reservations to be superior to the The Layover precisely because it focuses on socio-politico-cultural elements. Not just the food, but also the people. For me, i's kinda what sets him apart.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. IMO AB is very political. He just keeps the lid on it for the most part. As he needs the $ less watch for him to become more open about what his travels have taught him. He did a show were he was eating with a family were some man had lost his leg/s due to US bombing. AB said during his voice over: "What do you say to the guy. Too bad about your legs pass the rice?". He was really moved.

                                    1. kitchen confidential was half about the wonderful immigrant kitchen workers.