Culinary cable celebrity Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown on CNN has covered a lot of territory, including a recent surprise interview with Barack Obama over noodles in Hanoi. More than 15 years after his best-selling memoir Kitchen Confidential gutted New York's gastronomical underbelly, the former junkie and chef continues to find new ways to piss off nearly everone.
Q: You're a liberal. What should liberals be critiquing their own side for?
A: There's just so much. I hate the term political correctness, the way in which speech that is found to be unpleasant or offensive is often banned from universities. Which is exactly where speech that is potentially hurtful and offensive should be heard.
The way we demonize comedians for use of language or terminology is unspeakable. Because that's exactly what comedians should be doing, offending and upsetting people. Comedy is there, like art, to make people uncomfortable and challenge their views and hopefully have a spirited yet civil argument. If you're a comedian whose bread and butter seems to be language, situations, and jokes that I find racist and offensive, I won't buy tickets to your show or watch you on TV. I will not support you. If people ask me what I think, I will say you suck and that I think you are racist and offensive. But I'm not going to try to put you out of work. I'm not going to start a boycott, or a hashtag, looking to get you driven out of the business.
The self-congratulatory tone of the privileged left—just repeating and repeating and repeating the outrages of the opposition—this does not win hearts and minds. It doesn't change anyone's opinions. It only solidifies them and makes things worse for all of us. We should be breaking bread with each other and finding common ground whenever possible. I fear that is not at all what we've done.
Q: You recently gave a feisty response to a long-winded San Francisco animal-rights protester who was going after you about eating meat. You said, "I like dogs. But how much worse can they be than, like, kale?"
A: A sense of humor is a terrible thing to waste. I think that's the problem with a lot of animal activists, with whom I share a shocking amount of overlap, actually. I mean, I'm against shark finning. I take no pleasure in seeing animals hurt or suffer. I like humanely raised animals. I'm against fast food. I'm against fur [and] animal testing for cosmetics. What annoys me is these people are so devoid of any sense of humor or irony. And their priorities are so fucked! I mean, Aleppo is happening right now. They also threaten to murder humans who piss them off with a regularity I find disturbing.
Q: In your Brexit episode of Parts Unknown, Ralph Steadman—who illustrated the cover of your new cookbook, Appetites—said, "I think human beings are still stupid." Does that explain Trump's election?
A: I don't think we've got the [exclusive] franchise on that. If you look around the world (in the Philippines, in England), the rise of nationalism, the fear of the Other. When people are afraid and feel that their government has failed them, they do things that seem completely mad and unreasonable to those who are perhaps under less pressure. As unhappy and surprised as I am with the outcome, I'm empathetic to the forces that push people towards what I see as an ultimately self-destructive act. Berlusconi, Putin, Duterte—the world is filled with bad choices, made in pressured times.
This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a longer version, go to reason.com.