While reading the first 128 pages of Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour this weekend, I let my pen and my post-it notes fly. Bourdain covered some serious ground in the first half of A Cook’s Tour and my untamed responses followed suit. Though Bourdain worked through multiple countries, foods, and provoking statements in the first half of A Cook’s Tour, I found a common thread in his tendency to discuss nationalism in each place he visited.
Bourdain’s sometimes brief, but often provoking discussions of national values and patriotism in each place he visited resonated with me because I struggle to define these things for myself. Like Nguyen ties her identity conflict to food in Stealing Buddha’s Dinner and Jane Kramer links her writing strategies to cooking in “The Reporter’s Kitchen,” I find it helpful for Bourdain to connect food with nationalism in A Cook’s Tour. Somehow, patriotism, or a lack thereof, seems easier to digest with food.
Bourdain begins his quest for the “perfect meal” in Portugal and he notices, after dining on pork, pork, and more pork, that a few elements are missing from the American food culture. While in Portugal, he realized nostalgia for big groups that eat together, family, resistance to change food that’s already good, the “casual cruelty that comes with living close to your food,” and a no-waste policy. These things, according to Bourdain, are missing from the dining experience in the United States.
I think Bourdain hit the nail on the head. I often wish I knew how to use every part of every ingredient I cook with. Last night, I made soup with vegetables from a community garden and I realized I had no idea what to do with the stalks and leaves of the turnips and beets I put in the soup. After chopping and tasting them, I reluctantly threw them away. I was clueless about the proper ways to use whole vegetable parts and while this could be a result of my lack of cooking experience, I also think it might have something to do with the food culture here.
In tandem with my waste conflict, like Bourdain, I want to be close to my food. I dream raising chickens someday. Often, when I say this, my boyfriend and parents laugh. They must think I’m crazy for thinking it would be cool to live with dirty, smelly, chickens and they could be right. I could simply be a wannabe hippie with nostalgia for something I haven’t ever experienced before. Still, I think it would be incredible to experience the “casual cruelty” Bourdain describes in Portugal and understand what exactly happens to my food before it hits my plate.
I think Bourdain might argue that the personal pressures and guilt I struggle with—namely, waste and raising animals—must be tied to the culture I live in. While in Morocco, Bourdain explains that many food practices are derived from important times in history. He writes, “As the Portuguese and Spanish have adopted bacalo—a method of preserving fish for long periods—as a way to ensure naval power, the citizens of Fez have a culinary repertoire developed around survival, food hoarding, preservation, and self sufficiency.”
Before reading A Cook’s Tour, I hadn’t thought about food as a result of place-specific culture. I’m still sorting through how my food practices and gripes could be related to my history, but I think it’s important to recognize that the tension and pride we find in food could be related to nationalism and tradition. Linking food and nationalism, as Bourdain often does, could be a helpful way to evaluate these feelings.