After witnessing the unfolding of the 2006 Lebanese War, Anthony Bourdain says he knew he could never make a “happy horse s–t” show just about food again.
Bourdain was in Beirut, Lebanon filming the Travel Channel’s “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” during the outbreak of the war. When bombs hit the Lebanese airport, Bourdain and his crew were stuck in the city waiting for the U.S. Marines to leave.
“There was something shameful in this, I felt, that we were safe — reasonably safe,” Bourdain said at an event for the Producers Guild of America’s annual Produced By conference on Saturday. “There was a sense that nothing would happen to us.”
After he and his crew returned to the U.S., Bourdain said he was determined not to air the episode, given that it would be “grotesque” to do so following such violence and destruction.
“We are not journalists. We have a happy horse s–t food show,” he recalled thinking.
But at the suggestion of Lydia Tenaglia, the co-founder of Zero Point Zero Production, Inc., they decided to put some of the footage together to see how it turned out.
“This was the grimmest, angriest, most hopeless thing I’d ever written at the end of the show,” Bourdain said. “I was really proud of that. To just drop this very honest but deeply depressing, without hope, show.”
Following that experience, everything changed for Bourdain.
“I would never again ignore the elephant in the room,” he said. “It just seemed obscene to me, given what I’d seen in Beirut, to keep coming back to food.”
This mindset can be seen in his move to CNN for the Emmy and Peabody award winning series “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.” The series premiered in 2013 and features Bourdain in a number of more politically charged places, including Sri Lanka and Cuba.
Still, Bourdain repeatedly acknowledged that he is not a journalist and is not looking to create balanced, fair documentaries about the places he’s visiting.
“I don’t feel any responsibility to tell an even or balanced, comprehensive, or even fair story,” he said. “I want to tell an honest story.”