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Filmed before Hurricane Maria, Bourdain finds Puerto Rico fighting an economic disaster.

Charlie Heller
November 02, 2017

Only a few months before Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico devastated, Anthony Bourdain was there filming the latest episode of Parts Unknown. In an updated opening added to the show, Bourdain says that at the time of writing, almost 95% of Puerto Rico's residents were without power, and half without water, but the episode focused on an economic crisis that the people of Puerto Rico were already dealing with. He asks American viewers to figure out what their own responsibility is when it comes to rebuilding the island.

The episode itself depicts Puerto Rico's strange status. A former Spanish colony taken by America during the Spanish-Ameican War in 1898, it's now an "unincorporated territory;" Puerto Rican journalist Hermes Ayala tells Bourdain that people are "still trying to figure out" what that term means. The island's beautiful views of nature and sweeping beaches exist alongside American chains like McDonald's, which is emblematic of how dependent Puerto Rico is on U.S. imports due to its lack of agricultural industry and crushing debt to "vulture funds" that, as Bourdain explains over montage of hospitals, emergency services, and schools shows, are squeezing every part Puerto Rico for money.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a wealth of culture, and, of course, food. At a '50s/'60s-style restaurant that serves "grandma food" like plantain soup, a slow-cooked pork marinated in bitter orange, taro root, green plantains, squash, garbanzo beans and one of Bourdain's "favorite things," blood sausage, Bourdain talks to teacher Liza Fournier Córdova about why she chooses to stay when she could make more money off the island. Like most of the people Bourdain talks to, she wants to empower the future generation to change things, and overcome Puerto Rico's growing crises.

In order to do it, they'll need the spirit Bourdain finds all over the island, from a group of activists trying to stop their land from being turned into a mega-resort that could destroy the island's ecosystem, to a man who has spent 25 years of his life perfecting the art of the slow-roasted pig, to Chef Xavier Pacheco, whose restaurants were helping to bring farming back to an island that has to import 90% of its food.

After Maria, that farming is even more absent than before, according to an update on Parts Unknown's official site, but people like Pacheco are continuing the fight for a better Puerto Rico. The episode asks you to go to CNN's site for ways you can help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and elsewhere. Considering how much the island is going through, it's only the beginning of the answer to Bourdain's opening question.

Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown: Sri Lanka premieres Sunday, November 5 at 9 p.m. on CNN.