Anthony Bourdain: False (and Useless) Justification of Cruelty

Debbie says:

Anthony Bourdain, well-known “bad boy” chef, TV personality, and excellent writer, doesn’t read his own books (or even his own interviews). Bourdain is getting a lot of well-deserved grief just now for this piece, in which he relates his no-holds-barred campaign to keep his daughter from having any interest in fast food.

This is just one act in an ongoing dramatic production, one small part of a larger campaign of psychological warfare. The target? A two-and-a-half-year-old girl. The stakes are high. As I see it, nothing less than the heart, mind, soul and physical health of my adored only child. I am determined that the Evil Empire shall not have her, and to that end I am prepared to use what Malcolm X called “any means necessary”.

His “any means necessary” include casting Ronald McDonald in his daughter’s eyes as someone who steals children, as well as planning to wrap something that will upset his daughter (“Nothing dangerous, but something that a two-and-a-half-year-old will find ‘yucky!’ – even upsetting – in the extreme. Maybe a sponge soaked with vinegar. A tuft of hair. A Barbie head.”) in a McDonald’s wrapper so she will be aversively conditioned against the golden arches.

Let’s start with the important points:

There is nothing most children are more afraid of than being taken away from their parents, and there is absolutely no excuse for inventing reasons for children to experience this fear. Just because the mass media fans this fear on a daily basis doesn’t absolve Bourdain from personalizing it for his daughter; in fact, the crazytown social climate makes what he’s doing even worse.

Leaving scary things for children to find is just plain mean. I have to wonder what Bourdain would do to someone else who played such vicious tricks on his “adored only child.”

Here’s the ironic part. In explaining why he must be so vigilant against Mickey D, Bourdain says:

What’s the most frightening thing to a child? The pain of being the outsider, of looking ridiculous to others, of being teased or picked on. Every child burns with fear at the prospect.

I disagree. I think (and Bourdain’s actions bear me out) that the fear of being taken away from your parents is more frightening. Nonetheless, he’s still right that most kids want to be included, accepted, part of the gang.

As a long-time Bourdain reader, I also remember his account in Kitchen Confidential of what made him an adventurous eater, and a gourmet, in the first place, when his parents took him and his brother to France on a foodie vacation. In fact, I could grab it right off my shelf to quote from:

My folks had by now endured weeks of relentless complaining through many tense and increasingly unpleasant meals. They’d dutifully ordered our steak hache [hamburger], crudites variees [raw vegetables], sandwich au jambon [ham sandwich], and the like long enough. They’d taken my brother and me, the two Ugliest Little Americans, everywhere.

Vienne was different.

They pulled the gleaming new Rover into the parking lot of a restaurant, … handed us what was apparently a hoarded stash of Tintins … and then left us in the car.

I had plenty of time to wonder: What could be so great inside those walls?

I decided then and there to outdo my foodie parents. I’d show
them who the gourmet was!

To recap, by his own arguments and experience, Bourdain’s active and intentional cruelty to his daughter will ensure that she feels left out and encourage her to become fascinated by the things he’s excluding her from. Meanwhile, of course, by conflating his food politics with her psyche, he’s setting her up for a disturbingly unhealthy relationship to what she eats. (I do agree with a good deal of his castigation of fast food; that’s not the point.)

If he’s not doing his level best to raise an unhappy, confused McDonald’s junkie, it’s hard to see how he could do better. I’m just appalled that he’s not only willing to misue his child in these ways, he’s downright bragging about it. I hope she grows up to eat whatever the fuck she wants, and throws his moralism in his face.

8 thoughts on “Anthony Bourdain: False (and Useless) Justification of Cruelty

  1. I mostly agree with you (surprise!). But I have to confess that “Ronald McDonald smells like poo” was funny and possibly brilliant.

  2. I spent a lot of my therapy session today discussing how very badly triggered I was, just by reading about this. Many of my food issues can be directly traced to my father’s inappropriate and sadistic behavior around food when I was a small child.

    I really hope he was joking, but I am afraid that the attitude is genuine, even if the tactics aren’t.

  3. Not having read anything by Bourdain before this excerpt from his book, I honestly can’t tell which bits are true confession and which are simply edgy humor. Should I give more credence to the details of this essay than I would to those of one by Dave Barry? I can see Bourdain wanting us to believe that he would actually do these things — behead barbies and whisper evil outside his daughter’s door — our apoplexy fuel for his raucous laughter. He does seem to enjoy being outrageous. Writing ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ in a national British newspaper! I say!

    As you say, trying to scare a two-and-a-half-year-old with bedtime rumors of child abduction is cruel. Joking about same to adults is merely in execrable taste. It’s hard to believe that someone would actually do that to their own child and then announce it publicly, as though daring anyone to ring up Child Protective Services. I find it easier to believe that he made up and highly exaggerated those bits to make his points about fast food outrageously and amusingly and to ensure tons of excited press coverage for his book. If he wasn’t joking and really does those things, may he wake in drenched panic night after night from dreams of someone abducting his child until he stops.

    One of the elephants in this particular room is that his daughter — at two and a half! — was obviously already intimately familiar with McDonalds — the fare, the packaging, the corporate colors. She was seeing the message, entering the buildings, eating the crap. What, did he let her watch commercial television and she wasn’t even three? What was he thinking? Why did he let things reach the point where he felt it necessary to deprogram the moppet? It sounds like he got sloppy with her ‘diet’ long before she ever sank her baby teeth into one of those yummy slabs of death.

  4. After watching his fat rant with Ted Nugent that was an out take of his “No Reservations” show a couple years ago, I see him as actually doing that to his child. I used to like Tony, but no longer.

  5. I think you’re overreacting, and I think it’s funny. My mother told me I’d get hookworm if I went barefoot, and explained what that was in gruesome terms. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that hookworm isn’t a danger in Southern California. She just didn’t want me to go barefoot and liked making up stories.

    I think he’s going about this the wrong way. Nothing makes a child want some thing more than forbidding it, and there will come a time when she’ll listen more to her friends than to her parents about what’s cool.

    There are kids who eschew MacDonald’s, some for health or cuisine reasons, so it’s possible this will work. It’s a reasonable question, I think: how do you deal with junk food? My parents handled it by rarely buying it – if we were out running errands, we went home and ate when we were done. MacDonalds and its ilk just weren’t part of my world. By the time I was a teenager I didn’t want to waste my money on hamburgers when there were records I wanted to buy. I think there were some class issues too. MacDonald’s never appealed to me because it was so wholesome and all-American.

Join the Conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.