Frank Bruni Takes Aim at Anthony Bourdain, Misses the Point


Over at the New York Times, Frank Bruni has fixed his righteous gaze on the dust-up last week between Anthony Bourdain and Paula Deen. And the former restaurant critic is not happy with Bourdain, who in an interview with TV Guide called Deen “the worst, most dangerous person in America” and accused her of “telling an already obese nation that it’s OK to eat food that is killing us.”

Bruni chastises Bourdain — who has made a career out of verbally eviscerating the likes of Alice Waters, Sandra Lee, and vegans — for his “ill-timed elitism,” and writes that putting aside Deen’s disingenuous “one-with-the-masses pose … she’s otherwise 100 percent justified in assailing the culinary aristocracy, to which even a self-styled bad boy like Bourdain belongs, for an often selective, judgmental and unforgiving worldview.” If the two were political candidates, Bruni continues, Bourdain would be a “blue-state paternalist” and Deen a “red-state populist” fighting over “correct living versus liberty in all its artery-clogging, self-destructive glory.”

But while we certainly agree with Bruni’s observation of the hypocrisy of self-appointed culinary sophisticates who blanch whenever Deen fries a chicken but salivate when David Chang does the same thing, his characterization of these two TV personalities — at this point, no one in their right mind would call either a chef — strikes us as both superficial and inaccurate.

Although Bourdain pals around with elite chefs and certainly isn’t shy about describing the privileges he enjoys in their restaurants, the places he visits on No Reservations typically vary from the modest to the dirt-cheap, and he seems happiest when he’s eating street meat or the home cooking of some local family.

Deen, for all of her folksy, I’m-just-cooking-for-all-of-y’all-who-can’t-afford-microgreens charm, has made many millions thanks to her partnership with Smithfield Foods, the pork producer and processor that’s made headlines for abusing unions, animals, small farmers, and the environment. (It’s also given plenty of campaign contributions to the GOP, that bastion of fairness to the working class.) Deen is no less a member of the culinary aristocracy than Bourdain — they just belong to country clubs with different rules.

Bruni argues that “getting Deen to unplug the waffle iron doesn’t strike to the core” of our country’s obesity problem; rather, it’s the dearth of fresh, healthy food that’s to blame, and changing that requires a level of public intervention that’s unlikely “in such pinched times.” But that’s a half-truth: While many people certainly lack access to the healthy food that should be a given in any community, they’re instead eating the processed foods that people like Deen and Sandra Lee champion. And those products, as has been pointed out over and over again, are just as responsible, if not more so, for building a nation of fatties.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by Bruni’s defense of Deen: This is, after all, the same guy who gave a pass to George W. Bush, that other great champion of the li’l people. While following Bush on the campaign trail, Bruni seemed all but intoxicated by the future president’s charms. In defending Deen, he appears to have breathed a few too many of the fumes emanating from Smithfield’s hog farm.