An old video of Anthony Bourdain has resurfaced on Twitter this morning that shows the giant of the culinary world refusing to toast the late Queen Elizabeth II. The clip is taken from Season 11 Episode 3 of Bourdain’s popular food and travel show, Parts Unknown. In the clip, Bourdain is toasting fellow chefs David McMillan and Frédéric Morin with a glass of wine. McMillan says, “Gentlemen, cheers. To the Queen.”
Bourdain’s face at this point expresses first confusion, then disgust. He lowers his glass slightly, looking at McMillan. “No, I hate the aristocracy, man,” Bourdain responds.
The video is circulating on Twitter following the wake of the queen’s recent death. One user, @filmforvictoria, tweeted the video with the caption, “rip anthony bourdain you would’ve loved september 8, 2022.” Clearly, others are expressing a similar sentiment: The word “Bourdain” was trending with over 13K tweets at the time of writing.
As far as I’m concerned, this video is just one more reason to love Anthony Bourdain; I think many of us would’ve had a similar reaction. But I have been shocked at the number of people—food people included—that have had a very different reaction to the queen’s passing. Did we not all just listen to the Oprah-Megan Markle interview barely over a year ago? Do we not remember that the queen allegedly made shockingly racist comments about her own grandchildren? And had we not all realized that those comments were just one more example of the matriarch’s commitment to the continuation of England’s colonial project?
According to Maya Jasanoff, Harvard professor of history and author of the New York Times op-ed “Mourn the Queen, Not Her Empire; during the queen’s reign, British troops actively attempted to prevent anticolonial movements in Kenya, Malaya, Cyprus and Yemen. Kenyans and Yemenis were literally tortured. The queen’s appearance of “imperial benevolence,” claims Jasanoff, “helped obscure a bloody history of decolonization whose proportions and legacies have yet to be adequately acknowledged.”
As Twitter user @YaaAsantewaaBa put it, “Reminder that Queen Elizabeth is not a remnant of colonial times. She was an active participant in colonialism. She actively tried to stop independence movements & she tried to keep newly independent colonies from leaving the commonwealth. The evil she did was enough.”
While the queen may have obscured some of Britain’s atrocities during her reign, very little was done to obscure the massive wealth the royal family holds. According to British Heritage, the royal family received £102.4 million from British taxpayers from 2021 to 2022. This is all while an estimated one in seven adults in the UK faces food insecurity. Why are British citizens—who are unable to even feed themselves—being forced to pay to maintain the monarchy, an institution that doesn’t even play a real role in governing? Why do we continue to celebrate an institution that actively displays ridiculous levels of wealth, for no good reason other than tradition, when its own people (and people in its former colonies) are still struggling to access food?
In the world of fine dining, there is sometimes an obsession with tradition, even when those traditions have seemingly outlived their relevance. One of the reasons so many people love Bourdain is because he was able to reject this meaningless tradition, this pretentiousness, while still enjoying the culinary traditions that deserved to be celebrated. His refusal to toast the queen is a reflection of this mindset. As people—but as food people especially—we should be critical about what we commemorate and what we mourn and why, especially considering that the British monarchy’s legacy (and the queen’s, by extension) has been a major driver of food insecurity around the world and is largely responsible for the capitalist, imperialist framework that has ravaged our communities, our environment and our food systems up to the present day.
So, yeah, I guess if you want to go ahead and mourn the queen as an individual, as a human being who has seen the end we will all face, go ahead. But when it comes to commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s role in our world, I think we should follow Bourdain’s cue and sip our Champagne.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.