Anthony Bourdain's Updated Addiction Report Card

He may smoke, he certainly drinks and, good God, that 60-year-old is trim!

Posted Jun 25, 2017

“‘Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.” This is how I’ll remember Tony. He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.

Anthony Bourdain is the worldly gastronomical traveler with an addictive past.  In his 2000 best seller Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain described his ascent into the premier kitchens of New York as a celebrity chef, along with his—and fellow kitchen workers'—seemingly endless use of drugs.  Bourdain used everything—psychedelics, pharmaceuticals, amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin.  Eventually, he did enter rehab.

Flash forward.  Bourdain no longer works in kitchens.  Soon after Confidential appeared, in 2002, Bourdain began hosting a series of around-the-world culinary explorations.  He is currently (and has been since 2013) featured on CNN's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. During these shows, he smoked cigarettes, but since 2007—when his daughter was born—he ceased.  Yet he continues to make marijuana jokes that seem to indicate he still smokes weed.

And drink—lord, that man drinks.

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Historical and personal interlude:

Dwight Heath, a longtime friend of mine, is the world's most prominent alcohol anthropologist.  Dwight first became known for his 1959 study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol of Bolivia's Camba Indians.  In a nutshell, the Camba engage in round-the-clock weekend drinking binges several times a month where, served by children, people drink until they pass out, then get up off the ground to begin drinking again. Total civility is observed during these binges.  No fights break out, and no one misbehaves sexually.  During off-drinking weekends and weekdays, no one sneaks out to drink alcohol or displays other symptoms of alcohol dependence

All of this was reprised by best-selling social psychologist Malcolm Gladwell in 2010 in the New Yorker in a piece titled, "Drinking Games: How much people drink may matter less than how they drink it."

In 2000, Dwight published the book, Drinking Occasions.  At the risk of simplification, the book is about how the Spanish of all ages drink in every situation.  It prompted my classic PT Blog: "End Alcoholism: Bomb Spain," in which I point out that the Spanish, with their much different attitude towards alcohol from us, have far superior drinking outcomes, with far less alcohol damage and much more enjoyment.

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I am reminded of Dwight Heath's Camba Indians because, in a recent episode on Parts Unknown, Bourdain revisited Borneo, which has a similar annual custom, lasting three days, where people drink until they pass out (including women and children), get up and drink again, without fighting or arguing or continuing their drinking past the holiday.

I know: that's impossible.  (Read my "Bomb Spain" piece.)

So let's summarize the aspects of Bourdain's addictive behavior that I first discussed in Anthony's Bourdain's Addiction Report Card.

1.  Drugs.  It would seem that Anthony has given up drugs—heroin, cocaine, and psychedelics—but for his rumored marijuana use.

2.  Smoking.  After not smoking for the better part of a decade, while visiting Borneo, Bourdain went to the grave of a deeply respected village elder he had met on his first visit, where he left a bottle of beer and a lit cigarette.  Before leaving the cig, Bourdain took a deep, appreciative drag (saying "I haven't smoked in years")—then put the cigarette on the grave marker.

3.  Drinking.  I have already described how the natives Bourdain visited spent their three-day holiday drinking non-stop—every man, woman, and (I think I saw this on the show, but please correct me if I'm wrong) child.  And Bourdain right along with them.  But Bourdain does this sort of drinking, often along with natives, on many episodes of his show.

4.  Fitness. So maybe you think Bourdain has relapsed.  But do keep in mind his series of hit TV shows over the last 15 years, which involve his traveling up to 275 days a year to produce elaborate episodes in what are often the most remote parts of the world (electricity was provided by generator in Borneo and Bordain bathed in the river with the locals).

And he looks damn good.  I noted how Bourdain had developed a bit of a pot belly in 2011, although he certainly wasn't obese, and wondered how he kept his weight under control gorging himself on course after course in cities and feasts around the world.

Well, wonder of wonders, he's lost even that small pot.  At 60+, Bourdain looks marvelous.  And Bourdain is a prime example of human beings' variability over their life spans and as participants in different cultures.  This is true in addiction as it is in everything else humans do.