Late breaking news: Food Network star and prolific cookbook author Paula Deen, famous for her lush, buttery Southern home cooking, has type 2 diabetes. Go figure. Turns out she’s had it for 3 years, faithfully demonstrating butter cream frosting technique all along. But she shared the information on the Today Show this week, along with the news that she is the new spokesperson for a big pharma company that makes diabetes medication. Irony and outrage are escalating across the internet. How many things are wrong with this picture?
Public condemnation has come from chefs, doctors, and furious bloggers who wonder what she has been thinking. Has she owned up to the role of diet in her health crisis? Not so much. Will she repent, change her culinary style, and assume a new mentoring role, leading us away from our obsession with deep fried anything? Not so far, but the story is just unfolding. Her self image and cultural identity are involved, and she states she will continue to be who she is. Why are we so angry?
After all, it’s not as if we didn’t know better. High fat diets lead to overweight and, quite often, to adult onset diabetes, somewhere down the line. The stats are worrisome. Yet we continue to fall under the spell of celestial desserts, as well as fast foods not chef made at all, as if there were no consequences. Sounds a bit like the mind of an addict. Scary, isn’t it? Ms Deen shares the inner sanctum of her restaurant kitchen with us, and her hospitality is part of the food experience. We want a part of the contagious delight she takes in her food; we are hungry for unambiguous joy. We have turned the TV chef into a guru with a whisk.
But seriously, how can this be? In the era of abundant health information online, with a hundred food apps for your phone, the public has fallen in love with Ooey-gooey Butter Cake, Deep Fried Lasagna, Fried Butter Balls, a burger served between two Krispy Kreme donuts, and, yes, Deep Fried Cheesecake. Ms Deen told Oprah, a few years back, “Honey, I’m your cook, not your doctor”. She might be a lot of fun, but we clearly need to choose our gurus more mindfully. Now she is diabetic. Nothing is more infuriating than having cold reality pull back the curtain on our fantasies, or our wizards, and discovering that they are fragile, and so are we. What have we projected onto her, that we are so angry?
The Trouble with Paula Deen’s Diabetes Announcement Isn’t the Food, observes Slate.com. Perhaps it’s the rationalizing: the outrage is attributed by her supporters to food snobbery toward Southern culture, or to her folksy femininity. Would a male French chef with a pint of heavy cream receive similar scorn? Perhaps not, but that’s a thin defense, if you’re a Food Network star, for creating food fantasies that lead your fans in a dangerous direction, in an era of epidemic obesity, even among educated people. Of course, it’s our choice to follow her into the pantry. Southern chefs complain, too, that her food misrepresents their culinary traditions. It’s complicated.
But the blogosphere is mostly angry that Paula Deen continues to teach recipes that, arguably, led not only to her illness, but to an opportunity to reap profit from the medications that treat it. Diabetes is not a death sentence, she proclaims, and that is in many ways true. But does she promote naïve confidence in the ability of pharma to save us from our food obsessions? Meanwhile, her faithful viewers continue to stir their butter cream frosting, trusting in Paula and in the redemptive capability of modern medicine. The chefs and doctors and bloggers are furious. Will she yet repent, while remaining true to herself? Will we? Not clear.
Anger can be a healthy emotion. But is our anger placed where it belongs?