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.