[Marxism] Anthony Bourdain on Harvey Pekar

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jul 17 06:14:27 MDT 2010

Tom O'Lincoln wrote:

> Bourdain's show about the Plain of Jars was a brilliant indictment of US 
> bombing during the Vietnam War, and would have educated a lot of people who 
> would channel surf right past a more "political" program. 

Not everybody likes Bourdain apparently:

Counterpunch Weekend Edition
October 16-19, 2009
The Coolness Factor is Wearing Thin
Rainforest Beef, Factory Farms and Anthony Bourdain's War on Vegetarians


Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has never made a secret of his disdain 
for vegetarians and vegans. In his best-selling book Kitchen 
Confidential the former New York cook remarked somewhat amusingly, 
“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are 
a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.” After his book became a 
hit, Bourdain moved into television and currently hosts No Reservations, 
a rather unusual and unorthodox travel show which examines far-flung 
cultures and exotic cuisines of the world.

Over the course of his career, Bourdain has cultivated a cool, bad-ass 
image and during his program he sports a black leather jacket. On one of 
his shows shot in San Francisco, he made a point of taking on political 
correctness by heading to an old steak house and feasting on prime rib. 
“To me,” he has written, “life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, 
organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth 
living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the 
human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of 

A few days ago Bourdain took his relentless campaign against vegetarians 
and vegans to new heights on CNN. Speaking on Larry King Live, the TV 
personality remarked that we were designed by evolution to eat meat. “We 
have eyes in the front of our head. We have fingernails. We have ... 
teeth and long legs. We were designed from the get-go ... so that we 
could chase down smaller, stupider creatures, kill them and eat them,” 
he said.

The conversation focused on contaminated burgers that had sickened, 
paralyzed and even killed some people who had eaten them. Bourdain 
conceded that factory farms and large meat processors had developed 
“unconscionable” practices which “bordered on the criminal.” Expressing 
concern about chopped meat, Bourdain said “The stuff they're putting in 
these burgers would not be recognized by any American as meat.”

Still, the popular Travel Channel personality could not bring himself to 
turn against a carnivorous lifestyle. “I think certainly we could eat 
better in this country,” he remarked. “It would probably not be a bad 
thing if we ate less meat, if the ratio of animal protein to vegetables 
changed along the lines of the Chinese model. But to talk about 
eradicating meat is silly.”

At this point another panelist on King’s show, Jonathan Foer, rightly 
took Bourdain to task. Foer, a best-selling writer and author of the 
upcoming book Eating Animals, declared “What Anthony didn't say, and I 
wish he had, is that 99 percent -- upwards of 99 percent of the animals 
that are raised for meat in this country come from factory farms.” Foer 
added, “When we're talking about meat, when we're talking about the meat 
they sell in grocery stores, when we're talking about the meat we order 
in restaurants, we are effectively talking about factory farms. I think 
it's a wonderful thing for someone with a reputation and as much 
intelligence as Anthony has to come out against factory farms. The 
crucial part of the picture is to say to America, this is almost 

Foer is right about how enmeshed Americans have become in the factory 
farm system. Yet, the discussion on Larry King about meat and its 
downsides did not go far enough. Today, meat production is putting our 
planet in peril and hastening global climate change. It’s an issue which 
has been ignored by the likes of CNN but one which I deal with at 
considerable length in my upcoming book, No Rain in the Amazon: How 
South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet 
(Palgrave-Macmillan, April 2010).
Here’s the problem which Bourdain and other blissful carnivores choose 
to ignore: the world-wide cattle industry is linked to destructive 
deforestation and our climate destiny. Worryingly, deforestation is 
currently the second largest driver of carbon dioxide emissions after 
the burning of fossil fuels. To put it in concrete terms, tropical 
deforestation accounts for a whopping 20 percent of global greenhouse 
gas emissions. The Amazon rainforest is of particular concern and 
accounts for nearly half of the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from 
tropical deforestation.

In the Amazon the cattle sector is the largest driver of rainforest 
destruction, accounting for 60 to 70 percent of deforestation. To put it 
in concrete terms: every eighteen seconds on average one hectare of 
Amazon rainforest is being lost to cattle ranchers. As if the carbon 
emissions resulting from cattle deforestation were not enough, consider 
bovine methane emissions (or cow farts, if you want to be less 
delicate). While much of the debate surrounding global warming has 
centered upon carbon dioxide--the world’s most abundant greenhouse 
gas--methane, which has twenty-one times the warming potential of carbon 
dioxide, is seldom mentioned.

In Brazil, rainforest cattle has accounted for much of the country’s 
domestic demand in recent years. But now, the cattle and climate dilemma 
is becoming internationalized as the South American giant moves into the 
global marketplace. So far Brazil has exported most of its beef to 
Europe, though the country’s meat may have qualities that some markets 
view as favorable. Indeed Amazonian cattle are certainly free range, 
grass fed, and possibly organic, depending on your definition of the 
term. Ever wonder where that hamburger you just ate came from? There’s a 
chance it might contain meat from the Amazon rainforest.

In light of our climate difficulties, we’re going to have to reconsider 
our dietary choices. The United Nations Food and Agriculture 
Organization finds that meat production gives rise to more greenhouse 
gases than either transportation or industry. Furthermore, beef is the 
most carbon-intensive form of meat production. Consider: a one-pound 
patty results in about 36 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, or 
thirteen times the emissions from chicken.

But wait, there’s more: in order to feed the world’s rapacious demand 
for meat, Brazil has turned large tracts of land over to soy production. 
Soy has long been popular among vegetarians but it is now prized as a 
quick, cheap, and safe animal feed for poultry, pigs, and cattle. The 
Chinese and Europeans have become voracious consumers of Brazilian soy, 
catapulting the South American nation to agribusiness giant status. In 
China soy imports have increased exponentially, in large part because of 
growing affluence and a shift in the local diet. For many Chinese, 
consuming meat and dairy products symbolizes wealth, status, modernity, 
and escape from rough rural life.

Though the average American eats more than 250 pounds of meat ever year, 
the Chinese are now catching up and currently consume 115 pounds. Per 
capita consumption of pork in China has meanwhile almost doubled. Though 
China produces a lot of soy on its own, it is now the world’s largest 
importer of soy to feed its growing livestock sector. In Europe 
meanwhile, demand for soy has skyrocketed.

Though the soy planters cut down some forest, their influence is often 
more indirect. Once ranchers have cleared land in the Amazon the soy 
planters buy up property and move in. But as they take up cleared land, 
savanna, and transitional forests, the soy magnates push others such as 
slash-and-burn farmers even further into the forest. Soy then acts as a 
significant push factor and catalyst of climate change. The farmers who 
get pushed into the rainforest by agribusiness quickly find that 
Amazonian soils are notoriously low in fertility. After several harvests 
crop yields start to disappoint and eventually farmers abandon the land 
altogether or convert it to cattle pasture. In addition to pushing 
ranchers and slash-and-burn farmers into the forest, soy magnates exert 
pressure on the Amazon in other ways. For example, they lobby for 
highways and infrastructure projects which pave the way for yet more 

In Brazil, it is large international companies which are fueling the soy 
bonanza --- companies like Minnesota – based Cargill. It’s a fact which 
apparently eludes Bourdain: speaking on CNN he remarked that it would be 
“ridiculous” and “silly” to replace Cargill, a huge corporation, with a 
food system based on fruits and vegetables. Bourdain has apparently 
failed to consider the nefarious social and environmental costs 
associated with corporate agribusiness. Perhaps he should talk to poor 
farmers in Brazil who have been displaced by soy production and must 
head to the rainforest to practice subsistence agriculture --- all in 
the name of fueling agribusiness exports and expanding the global 
meat-eating lifestyle.

It’s perplexing how Bourdain, whose show is easily one of the most 
lively and intelligent on TV, has become such an impassioned foe of 
“silly” vegetarians and their “Hezbollah-like” vegan cousins. 
Considering all the disadvantages, perhaps one of the best things anyone 
can do to tackle climate change is to have one meat-free day a week and 
gradually decrease meat intake thereafter. It’s not enough, however, to 
simply transition toward a vegetarian diet which includes lots of milk, 
butter, and cheese--this probably won’t reduce emissions significantly 
as dairy cows would still release methane through flatulence. While it 
may sound a bit naive to think that people will change their eating 
habits any time soon, such a move is certainly much less complicated 
than getting people to switch their mode of transport.

Tony Bourdain has a cool show though his overall coolness is rapidly 
wearing thin. Maybe he should channel his constructive energy into 
lambasting corporate cattle ranching and agribusiness as opposed to 
vegetarians and vegans. The host of No Reservations has a great 
appreciation for traditional cultures and local folk. Why not air a 
program about how soy and our unsustainable consumerist lifestyle are 
displacing poor people while simultaneously fueling deforestation and 
climate change? Now THAT would be a show worth tuning in for.

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of the forthcoming No Rain in the Amazon: 
How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet 
(Palgrave-Macmillan, April 2010). Visit his blog at 

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