There’s been a lot in the news this past week about Anthony Bourdain’s respect for food and its connection to people and cultures. It makes me think about all the discussions we at Seminars have about group meals, food allergies, dietary restrictions, and the important connections to be made between food and learning. What strikes me about Bourdain’s “extreme empathy” (as The Atlantic magazine describes him), is he understood that to get to know people in other countries, to begin to understand them and care about them, you need to eat what they eat, in an accepting, curious, nonjudgmental way. I agree with Bourdain’s approach that to accept and eat what someone prepares for you, whether in a restaurant or someone’s home, can provide insight into values, traditions, history, ways of life, family, cultural and individual priorities.
Certainly allergies are important to accommodate, and students’ values and health concerns impact their diets, but I wonder if, in Bourdain’s spirit, we could encourage our students to ask whether modifying those preferences might bring them closer to people they encounter and give them insights into the culture they’re studying. And could we expand this approach to food to other preferences–for transportation, comfort, service, etc.–that may also interfere with students’ cultural connections?
The art, of course, is to respect one’s own cultural choices and values and attend to safety concerns while encouraging students to question whether they could modify their choices, if only for a short time, in order to gain insight into another culture.
These two articles on Bourdain from The Atlantic and The New Yorker might kickstart some good conversations by faculty planning programs abroad or education abroad staff preparing pre-departure orientations. I find them thought-provoking.