I have something to say, and I don't usually do this, so this is difficult already.
My heart is broken at the death of Anthony Bourdain. Broken in the way that I can’t quite describe. It’s the kind of broken when someone whose work you turn to – in your desperate moments, when it seems like you’ve forgotten how to write the alphabet - is gone.
I mostly started writing about food at the end of my time as a reporter at The Express Tribune. When I quit to freelance full time, I cold-pitched Roads & Kingdoms. They took the piece. I discovered something in myself when writing about food: it allowed me to become a better writer, to research, to understand how and where something had originated, it allowed me to delve into my own middle-class background and understand how the food choices middle-class people make changes the way society functions. A few years later, I was trying to think about a pitch for Bourdain's Dispatched series, and I pitched a piece to Roads and Kingdoms about Eid and the cattle markets and the subcultures surrounding sacrificial animals. It got assigned.
A few days later, I was getting off a rickshaw and a biker crashed into me and ran off. I fell off the rickshaw, and thankfully I didn’t break a single bone but my legs and arms were bruised. I could have told R&K that I wanted to give up and heal, but it was just bruises. I just wanted to write the piece. I hobbled around cattle markets. My bruises healed. I turned in a draft that was probably overwrought and thousands of words over. When it came out.. the response wasn’t just for that day. Bourdain’s name attached to the story meant that people read it, and kept reading it, and kept reading it. Every year, someone reads that story. When I pitch stories, I include that as an example. Bourdain’s support to R&K and to that story meant that R&K kept going and I could keep writing about food, and I could keep learning. I owe so much to that site, but I owe so much to fact that Bourdain cared enough to let it thrive, that it impacted so many other writers.
There’s a tendency to denigrate writing about food or fashion or lifestyle as frivolous or unimportant or easy. I have written about what other people consider valued subjects or serious journalism, and writing about fashion or food or Zingers is hard. It is hard to fact check. It is hard to do. It is hard to mine your life and other people’s lives for what the crunch of a food means and why they spend money on it. There’s a tendency in Pakistan to denigrate women writing about food or music or fashion as not being serious – and accusing them of being unethical – I’m looking at you, Pakistani musicians who haven’t learnt to take criticism since 1991 – but food writing has taught me everything. Bourdain showed us that you can use food to say something larger than yourself and the meal in front of you. That is hard. It is valuable and hard and Bourdain’s loss is utterly devastating.
For many months now, I have thought about what people who are celebrated leave behind. What is their impact. But just look at what Bourdain has left us with – not just his legacy, but his support to writers and a website and cooks - and you think, that’s more valuable than anyone who says its just food. It’s everything.