Anthony Bourdain on Vegetarians

From his excellent Kitchen Confidential:

“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold. Oh, I’ll accommodate them, I’ll rummage around for something to feed them, for a ‘vegetarian plate’, if called on to do so. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini suits my food cost fine.”


  1. God damn I could go for some curry right about now, even if it’s meatless. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the perfect food but I’ve never looked at a menu containing curry and chosen something without it.

  2. My sister was a vegetarian for two years. She lost absolutely no weight with it whatsoever. And she wasn’t even remotely heavy to begin with.

  3. As Farmer Vincent said in the classic horror flick, “Motel Hell”, and he does tend to speak for all of us: “Meat’s meat and man’s gotta eat.”

  4. McGee, I don’t think the point of the vegetarian diet is to lose weight. I think most vegetarians do it because they either don’t want to harm animals, or they think animal products are harmful to their health.

    I happen love vegetarian food, if it’s cooked right. The fact Mr. Bourdain can’t/won’t cook a decent vegetarian meal is more a reflection on his cooking skills than it is on the palate of vegetarian food. If he want’s to try some fantastic vegetarian food he should check out the Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca NY.

    I also love a well done meal containing meat, and at that I imagine he excels. But meat isn’t required for an excellent meal.

  5. As a Nebraskan… I must insist that everybody go home after reading this, and eat themselves a BIG OLE STEAK!!! Mmmm… me likey beef!

  6. Anthony Bourdain could certainly cook a delicious vegetarian dish. The real issue is that pretty much any vegetarian dish you’d care to name would be much better as a side item for a steak, pork tenderloin, or salmon filet.

  7. this is a tender spot for me, so i’ll deliver a little rant. this reminds me of the whole debacle about attacking “vegan” parents for malnourishing their child, which the media (and blogosphere) eagerly leapt upon despite the fact that veganism had absolutely nothing to do with that situation.

    for the record, the most persuasive argument for vegetarianism is ecological: meat consumption is a vastly higher burden on the environment at practically every level. being a meat-eater is far more environmentally destructive than being a car-driver. there are also probable health benefits, though dietary studies are notoriously difficult to conduct while accounting for all extraneous factors: it’s highly likely, based on available evidence, that vegetarianism results in lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

    what rankles me about things like this, however, is just how irrational it is that people find us vegetarians “irritating,” much less “an affront.” why be so mad at us? i don’t get it. the anti-vegetarians are so vocal, as if confronting some intrusive campaign or aggressive veggie-agenda, but as far as i can see there is none. aside from PETA (whom no one takes seriously), who exactly is it that’s pressuring you to give up meat? what seems to provoke them is simply our existence, our occasional request that there be at least one thing on the menu we can order, and a steady stream of non-judgmental objective research backing up our rationale. or, from time to time, someone like me coming to vegetarianism’s defense when it is blatantly attacked like this.

    and Bourdain admits himself that we don’t inconvenience him, and even generate greater profit margins. so… why the anger? it’s odd to me that a chef can muster up outrage over a small segment of the population not wanting to eat some of his meals. isn’t it rather more galling to be instructed by a chef what i should want, rather than spending my money as i see fit to buy food from a chef who prepares food i want to eat?

    it’s also intriguing to me that very similar sorts of snide, entitlement-based, vaguely regressive condescension get heaped on vegetarians (and *especially* vegans, since they are even more “other”), recyclers, and people who ask pesky questions about what the government is doing–in short, on people who care about consequences beyond themselves, by people who do not. but especially with vegetarianism, given our extreme minority and lack of public clout, the only reason i can think of for people to get so *angry* about us is defensiveness, i.e., feeling guilty and projecting aggression in order to avoid it. i honestly can’t figure out another reason for the righteous annoyance bit (unless it’s simple culinary xenophobia: “your dietary choices are different from mine and my friends’ and therefore contemptible”).

  8. the only thing i don’t like about vegans is the preachiness. i couldn’t care less what you’re dietary preferences are, and nor do i care what your opinion of my dietary preferences might be.

    there was a vegan movement in the local music scene when i was a teenager, and there was an incident where a guy got beat the hell up because he dared walk into a show while eating a hamburger, and that kind of militant behavior is just deplorable to me.

  9. Le_Sacre, despite my huge fandom of Anthony Bourdain and enthusiasm for eating the flesh of other creatures, I do hear you.

    However, for one, Bourdain is an entertainer who makes use of hyperbole. As an avid viewer of No Reservations, the only way I can imagine him saying this is in a flippant and barely-serious tone.

    He’s also a chef trained in traditional French cuisine, and the proprietor of a (tremendously good) French restaurant. Walking into a French restaurant and ordering a vegetarian dish is, well, just plain silly. You’d do better with your money to simply go elsewhere.

    Yeah, meat is inefficient and some methods used to raise it are unsustainable. But it’s good. I mean, really really really good. Irresponsible maybe, but life is too short for some of us food enthusiasts to not partake. That said, I’m calling for the dissolution of Oscar Meyer and an end to cheap processed meat… in the name of Mother Earth, our childrens’ health, and good eating.

  10. Keeping the planet’s humans alive by feeding them meat isn’t sustainable, morally or ecologically. Period. Anthony Bourdain needs to visit a factory farm or, should his busy schedule make this unfeasible, If the pictures and descriptions contained therein don’t turn your stomach, you have no soul.

  11. err said: “there was a vegan movement in the local music scene when i was a teenager, and there was an incident where a guy got beat the hell up because he dared walk into a show while eating a hamburger, and that kind of militant behavior is just deplorable to me.”

    If you think that kind of behavior is just deplorable, you should see the kind of behavior that gives you your hamburger meat.

  12. ah, another example in which tone cannot be easily communicated over the internet.

    naturally, the ecological argument, even more than any other tack, readily invites relativism rather than absolutism. some activists are suggesting something like “meatless mondays” to encourage people to treat meat as more of an occasional–rather than constant–offering. simply increasing the ratio of plant to animal matter on your daily plate has a tremendous impact on your lifetime environmental impact.

    personally, i’m a bit “lucky,” in that while i gave meat up for ideological reasons, i never miss it. i liked it as a kid, but now the thought of chewing on muscle and fat is very unappetizing to me.

  13. Oh Anthony B., by all means eat what you like but have you forgotten, part of cooking for others is to make them happy?

    When I make meals for others, I actually enjoy working around food restrictions- it’s a game to work within certain parameters and still make everything look and taste good. Milk free? I’m your girl. Low cholesterol? Will do- but I’m skipping the crappy fat free faux cheeses. A bacon lover? Honey, have I got a meal for you!

  14. In all fairness, Mr. Bourdain has since revised his opinion – the quote given is, IIRC, close to ten years old. He has since done an episode of ‘No Reservations’ focused on the vegetarian food if India, which he praised quite highly.

  15. I’m a vegetarian. This year I age at the French Laundry and there was no veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese to be found anywhere in my 12 courses. It was yummy!

  16. Bourdain’s staement seems to be overflowing with ignorance, just like others who live in denial that ecologically meat consuming is far more destructive than anything else. Deforestation can be attributed more to farmers trying to grow produce to feed the animals which will eventually be slaughtered for a days lunch, maybe. All the proven facts are out there, yet either people are ignorant or like to live in denial.
    Having said that, I personally do not preach or encourage someone who is trying to ‘convert’ people to a veggie or vegan lifestyle. But making statements with complete ignorance is stupidity, especially when you are a professional in that particular field. I do watch his show for his humour and adventureous trips but the food is never appetising. I am more than happy with my palate and I am glad I was born into a vegetarian family and culture(Indian – Hindu). The love for animals has made me a prouder vegetarian.
    Vegan is a bit too extreme to my taste.

  17. Humans: let kill and eat almost everything that moves then declare ourselves superior to all other animals.

    I fucking hate humans. Parasites.

  18. i agree with him basically but his argument is terrible. I guess his rich ass never has to deal with CFO meat or any of the actual problems that meat eaters should look at.

  19. I’ll tell you what’s deplorable, the smugness of all you vegetarians/vegans. I bet you all think that if we were all vegetarians there would be no war or hunger.

  20. @self-righteous vegetarians: All your comments here have strengthened my resolve to never go vegetarian. I will insist that an animal has suffered for every meal, and if it hasn’t, I will go out and punch a chicken afterwards.

    And if I ever go on a lengthy screed about how other people’s food is ruining the planet, I want someone to kill me brutally and make pies from my flesh.

  21. I’m honestly a bit surprised there’s controversy over a group of people choosing not to eat meat and advocating the decrease of it’s consumption. If you’ve ever eaten good vegan food you’d know what a harmless proposition that is. Heck, even the frozen stuff can be pretty tasty. More often than not I crave one of Boca’s spicy black bean burgers over actual beef.

    Is there really a problem with the message that you don’t need to eat meat at every meal, or even everyday? Honestly it sounds like sound common-sense advice to me.

  22. I kinda take a bioevolutionary viewpoint on all this.

    You can look at an animal’s teeth and be able to figure out what kind of diet that organism evolved. Some birds have beaks that are adapted into eating berries. Sheeps, cows, etc., have flat teeth used mainly for grinding grass. Tigers have sharp, pointy teeth used for tearing flesh.

    What do humans have? We are true omnivores, with both canines for tearing flesh but also molars used for grinding plants. We have it all, because evolutionarily speaking we can eat it all. The proof is in our teeth, and for me, that’s the ultimate answer to whether or not humans should or shouldn’t eat meat. Of COUSE we should!

    Now if you don’t eat meat, that’s good and well, and congratulations on your disciplined lifestyle, but to say that humans shouldn’t eat meat at all is a denial of basic biology itself, which in my view makes one no bettre than bible-thumping redneck who thinks the world is 6,000 years old.

    Tonight’s menu: Korean BBQ! Yay!

  23. Living in Northern California, many of my friends and acquaintances are vegetarian or vegan (or gluten free or dairy-free!). I myself recall the most delicious, succulent morsel of food I’ve ever had was a piece of veal the literally melted in my mouth a restaurant called Biba (be jealous. trust me). But while I am a lover of bacon, steak, and all things meat really, I like having to entertain vegetarians, vegans, etc. because I learn new recipes, which often turn out quite delicious and get added to my rotation of meals. Also it’s pretty impressive whipping up an “alternative meal” for a visitor who may be nervous that there will be nothing for them to eat!

  24. I love just about everything Anthony Bourdain has to say but his opinion on vegetarians is absurd. The above quote relies on little more than thin anecdotal evidence and cliches and, as mentioned above, most people aren’t vegetarians for weight loss, they do it because they think the farming and killing of living things is cruel not necessary to our survival as humans.

    Bourdain identifies with this “bad boy” persona but guess what he does in his TV show when he has to be the one to stab a living pig in the heart with a spear? He hesitates and then goes off and “muses” (i.e. feels remorse for taking an innocent life) about he’s just had to do. I’d like to see any meat eater kill all their own feed and then see how good they feel about themselves and their oh-so-delicious steaks and pork chops.

  25. @ nhennies

    It’s no more reasonable for all meat eaters to kill all their own food than it is for all vegetarians to grow and harvest all their own vegetables. And for myself at least, I have killed a few things that I’ve eaten, and I feel just fine about myself, thanks. A reasonable person won’t feel good about killing a living creature for food, but instead will feel respect for the animal and gratefulness to it. If you’ve never had this experience, I suggest you read the Michael Pollan book “Omnivore’s Dillemma”, especially the passage about when the author goes out on a wild boar hunt.

    Ever caught a big ol’ fish before and eaten it the same day?

  26. @nhennies
    Like I said, I’m from Nebraska. I kilt my dinner just this very night… though, I did not stab it through the heart with a spear.

  27. Celebrity Chefs are almost as annoying as “Starchitects”.

    At least the work of the chefs ends up being shat down a sewer, in contrast to the buidlings of Starchitects, which litter the skyline for generations.

    Vegetarians? F*cking Hindus, f*cking Buddhists. There are only – what – two billion of them? IDIOTS!

    And F*ck you Bourdain, whoever the Hell you are.

    Now excuse me while I chew on a stick of Tofu. Grind, grind, chew.

    For bonus points: read how Agriculture may be “The Biggest Mistake in the History of the Human Race”:

    Down, down, down we go…into the Rabbit Hole. Where it ends, nobody knows.

  28. I’m vegetarian solely for environmental reasons.

    I don’t think that if every human everywhere switched to a veggie diet that worldwide animal suffering would be reduced by a fraction of a percent. Animals are getting brutally killed in the wild every second of everyday.

    If I were a cow, I’d rather die from a quick bolt to the mind than by getting taken down by a pack of coyotes.

  29. Gordon Ramsey makes the same kind of statements all the time. It seems they have a passion for meat over a passion for food. 😀

  30. I guess I wouldn’t care if the eggplant I was eating was handled by a chef or not, as long as the meat I was eating was.
    Anthony Bourdain was the first “love” of my life. My god, all I could ever do is love him.

  31. 42 comments? Wow.

    I’m a hopeless meat eater, yet I occasionally find myself looking at a particularly disgusting piece of meat, thinking, “well, those vegetarians have a point…”

    What I do not like is this trend of being against certain groups just for the fun of it. Passionate rants over how vegans are like Hezbollah and other bullshit.

    I can see people ranting about things that affect them, personally, or people or things they care about. I’d give a chef a free pass there. But I see many people getting irrationally furious about vegetarians for no apparent reason.

    The same is true for environmentalists, emos, atheists, intellectuals, fans of certain styles of music or -a new trend- people who dare boycotting companies for ripping off customers or acting unethical (like, in a capitalists society a business can do whatever the fuck it wants!).

    It’s a very special breed of douchebaggery since it attacks people for not doing something. And the thing they do not do doesn’t even affect them in any way. It’s discussion culture on the level of elementary school peer pressure (“What? You don’t smoke? How uncool.”).

  32. Quick thought experiment; which is better, a cow to have a fully and happy life, to be slaughtered humanely as possible and served up on a plate, or that cow never to have existed in the first place?

  33. Phil

    A bit irrelevant to almost all Western consumption, Phil. Not to mention reliant upon imponderables such as what constitutes ‘a full and happy life’ for a damned cow.


    ‘to say that humans shouldn’t eat meat at all is a denial of basic biology itself’

    That’s answering one naturalistic fallacy with another. The only relevance that our evolved status as omnivores has is that we can eat meat – not that we should. That’s reasoning from an is to an ought.

    A flipside to being able to eat both meat and vegetation is that we don’t (generally) need to follow one particular diet. We are not obligated by our evolution to eat meat (or any other single food type); as such, we have the choice – and so have the luxury of being able to debate what we (as humans or as individuals) ought to eat.

  34. @outeast; Why irrelevant? Sounds like you’re simply skipping the question. Should enough people adopt a vegan lifestyle to cause a decrease in the size of the beef market, that would be the situation.

    And why can’t we define a “happy” life for a cow? Given the acceptance of factory farming as being a “bad” life, surely a “happy” or “good” life can be defined in opposition to this.

  35. ‘Irrelevant’ because the vast majority of meat is not sourced from animals living anything approaching the kind of life you suggest (at least not for their full lifetimes: as far as I have been able to ascertain, over 90% of US-consumed beef is feedlot-finished). And there’s good reason for this: ethically reared meat (for want of a better term) is incredibly inefficient when it comes to land use, so current rates of consumption could not be sustained under any more ethically satisfying system.

    With regard to ‘happiness’, I don’t see any reason to assume that ‘non-factory’ (which means ‘non-feedlot’ when it comes to beef) is an appropriate definition of a ‘happy and full life’ for a cow. It’s hard enough to measure ‘happiness’ with people (who are at least capable of considering the question and completing research questionnaires!), let alone with a dumb animal. Perhaps measurements of some stress hormone or something could be a measure…? But we’d still need to actually measure it.

    The thought experiment also frames the ethical dilemma in terms of what is preferable for an individual cow. In my opinion, that’s a bit of a side-issue – maybe that’s a question PETA-type sillies care about, but as several commenters above have pointed out (Le_Sacre, dave561, Kelsey, rsdj) there are issues of broader environmental impact which are far more pertinent to the ethics of meat eating.

    Reading through the comments, I see a lot of bitching about the ‘self-righteous’ veggies, several vegetarians making rational points about the ecological sustainability of high-meat diets, and only a tiny, tiny number of people basing a case for vegetarianism on the issue of cruelty. So at least in this forum, focusing on what is better for the individual cow is at best a distraction, at worst a straw man.

    PS I’m neither a vegan nor an advocate of veganism. I’m not even a vegetarian – I actually have a very high-meat diet. I’m just a hypocrite.

  36. Well that’s me told ; )

    Not sure what the market is like in the US, but here in the UK the “ethically reared” label is appearing on lots and lots of meat. For example, there RSPCA freedom food standards,,
    or the Soil Association,,
    which although primarily focused on the organic aspect necessarily includes some welfare standards.

    And yes, it was a silly, throw away question not worthy of a couple of 12 year olds…

    To address the environmental issue; yes, in terms of calories per acre it’s an incredibly inefficient way of producing food but so is most food production, to a greater or lesser extent. If we were concerned with efficient land use the organic food market wouldn’t exist and no-one would be wearing anything made out of natural fibres.

    I don’t think the environmental issue is such a big one; it’s an easy, obvious charge to lay against meat consumption but, given the slack elsewhere in the system, far from the killer argument described above. It just seems a handy way to drag the arguent away fro the meat is murder brigade that turned off so many moderates.

  37. Okay, work in a restaurant and deal with vegetarians and you will learn to scorn them as well. Man! Are they irritating!!

    Nothing wrong with vegetarianism – as long as you keep your attitude and utter pickyness to yourself! You have no idea how annoying some vegetarians are – and when it’s a RELIGIOUS thing it’s even MORE annoying! (I had to go back to the kitchen and get another spoon for this one customer because *GASP* it had been on the same tray and a glass of milk!)

    We have a HUGE buffet with more vegetarian dishes than meat (My husband and I own an Indian restaurant) and I get 5-15 calls a day from these freakin vegetarians who want to know exactly what is on the damned buffet. It’s a BUFFET people! but oh no, if it has too much paneer they won’t come. They get pissed because we don’t discount them for eating only veggies. THEY DRIVE ME CRAZY!!!!!

    I don’t hate vegetarianism. It’s great if you can manage it. But there are some vegetarians that I could very well do without!!!

    I totally understand where he was coming from.

    And meat eating is not destructive to the environment – factory farming is. Do not confuse the two. Can you say Bison? Thousands of years of hunting before white man came and went commercial? That argument that meat is more destructive than vegetable farming is bunk. Commercial factory farming of ANY kind is destructive!

    You want to be vegetarian? Fine – nothing wrong with that at all. But get down off your high horse and quit whining – look out of your window sometime – animals are eating animals all day long and there is nothing unethical about it. And for Pete’s sake quit calling me to see what is on the buffet – I NEVER get a meat eater asking me such inane questions!!!

    *pant pant pant*

    Okay I feel better now. Thanks for letting me rant!

  38. Phil

    Sorry, didn’t mean to be an asshole. But… what market share does ‘ethically reared’ meat have? Dollars to donuts it’s pretty small.

    And I don’t think the land use issue will go away: so far we’ve got away with it because only a fraction of the word’s population are crazy-huge meat eaters, but trends are shifting in China and that’s where things get pearish. Not to mention pressure from biofuels!

    Oh, and the oganic model is only ecological on a small scale. If we all went organic we’d have to wave goodbye to huge amounts of the ecosystem… not that conventional farming doesn’t need major reform.

    No, land use is not the only issue. It’s a biggie though.

    Julia S

    Can you say Bison? Thousands of years of hunting before white man came and went commercial?

    Can you say ‘population density’?

  39. lumpi> I agree 100%, thanks 🙂

    Julia S> I reckon that when you work at a restaurant you get to deal with annoying people. But trust me, those you speak of are just douchebags. Myself, apart for occasionally asking what’s in a dish I don’t know (only when the waiter comes to take the order), I keep my vegetarianism for myself. I don’t lecture people, I feed my cat meat, I even cook meat for others. It’s not a religion I want to push down people’s throats.

    Stories about vegans not wanting to date carnivores, about not touching a fork because it was 3cm from ham, or the one you tell about wanting a discount… just make me want to kick the shit out of them.
    And asking for a discount for eating only veggies is giving credit to the old anti-veg argument that a meatless meal isn’t complete.

    Oh, and I love Indian food; one of the most veggie-friendly, and none the less delicious, that tells a lot 😉

  40. By the way, I love urbandictionary’s definition of ‘vegetarian’:

    A bad hunter. Someone who survives by consuming not food, but the stuff that food eats.

    The vegetarian was forced to subsist on slower prey, such as the broccoli and carrot.

  41. @outeast

    RE: “That’s answering one naturalistic fallacy with another. The only relevance that our evolved status as omnivores has is that we can eat meat – not that we should. That’s reasoning from an is to an ought.”

    I disagree with you. I look at how we’re built, as animals, and that tells me the answer pretty plain and simple about what we should eat. A tiger could probably survive on the right vegetarian diet combination, but why should they? Why should we for that matter? It’s natural, man. Eat some meat once in a while fer chrissakes. All this navel-gazing on if you should or shouldn’t eat meat, if you can vs. if you must, it’s all a waste of time. Eat steak once in a while, it’s ok. Catch a fish, eat the fish, feel great. Your body was bulit for this kind of thing.

  42. In states and europe, being a veggie or a vegan is hard and maybe troublesome for others around them, hence the hatred. At the end of the day its an individual choice unless you are acting like the christian missionaries trying to convert everyone around you preaching the sacred benefits of being a vegan or veggie.
    Bourdain and the likes may not make sense in every part of the world. Its demographical.
    And AFAIK veganism has not many takers here (outside europe and US) thankfully.

    @ maebee- my dogs palate is veg too and is quiet obese and visible happy.

  43. This discussion is exactly why I am so annoyed with vegetarians and especially vegans.

    Given how they hate people that “legislate morality” they sure seem to want to make a moral issue over meat.

    Keep it to yourself, I have no problem with people eating what they want, but keep it to yourself!

  44. I have no problem with people eating what they want, and I certainly have no problem with them telling me why they feel it’s the right way to go.

    I care about the way meat is raised. I hate that most of the meat available is from factory farms where animals are mistreated and pumped full of chemicals. But my concern doesn’t stop there. I am also horrified that millions of acres of land are being raped to grown corn and soy – not to feed cattle, but to satisfy the demands of consumers, veg*n and non-veg*n alike. These strip-farming practices are much more damaging to the environment than grazing would be, yet I see no vegetarians rushing to end the practice.

    Here’s the thing: I can stop eating corn and soy. I suffer absolutely no adverse effects. On the other hand, remove meat from my diet and I become ravenous. Substitute beans? I can eat three bowls of a dish with beans and never feel full, where a single bowl with meat will satisfy me.

    I can analyze my physiology and dietary history until the cows come home (yes, our intestines are an acceptable length for a carnivore/omnivore), but in the end it won’t do me a bit of good. I have to eat the foods that work for me.

    Does that mean that I’ll just go on eating factory-farmed meat for the rest of my life? Heck no. As soon as I’m in charge of actually choosing the foods that go into my freezer, I’m moving to free-range organic. I may not be able to measure the happiness of the cows that died for my supper, but it doesn’t take a zoologist to figure out that a roaming, grazing cow is exponentially happier than a confined, grain-fed cow.

  45. hjojo> That’s what I do, I keep it for myself. It doesn’t hurt to discuss why I’m a veggie though; besides, I’m never the one who starts the discussion. It’s always someone questioning me on why I don’t eat meat.

    You know, carnivores can be as intolerant and patronizing as vegans: in this discussion alone, I’ve read people saying that we should eat meat, that we are douchebags, hypocrites, etc 😛

    No hard feelings though. It really isn’t worth fighting over.

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