Monday, January 23, 2012

Paula Deen and the Greasy Truth About Her Diabetes Announcement

paula-deen-food-cityWhen I heard about Paula Deen’s recent announcement about being diagnosed with diabetes, I responded with a  tsk, tsk and “Well, that’s not surprising.” If you live and breathe the kind of food that she is famous for making, it certainly isn’t a stretch, or even unexpected, for someone to develop type 2 diabetes. Even though the disease is a natural consequence, I still sympathize and feel for Deen and her family—I have a beloved uncle who was diagnosed with diabetes not so many years ago, certainly stemming from his lifetime of exuberantly loving food (a quality that I have always adored and share with him, if I am being honest, but understanding scientifically that something bad is a consequence of something that feels so good when you’re doing it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Obviously. Or life would be a lot different, right?

That said, I was shocked this morning when I read an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled Of Mouselike Bites and Marathons, by Frank Bruni, which revealed that Deen has been living with diabetes for THREE YEARS. And that she had timed her announcement in the most self-aggrandizing way imaginable—to promote her son’s new lower-calorie cooking show and to reveal that she landed a pitchwoman gig with a diabetes drug. Nice. Way to keep it klassy, Paula.

With obesity being such an epidemic in the USA, particularly in the South, upon whose mayonnaise- and butter-rich recipes Deen has built her empire, I find it almost reprehensible that she would continue cooking and selling her style of calorie-blind recipes without acknowledging that she was suffering from a disease that she developed in a direct response to the cooking and eating style she is selling.

I wrote about Georgia’s anti-obesity ad campaign featuring obese children last October, wondering if their tactics were too harsh or if the ads could really work as the makers of the campaign intended:  Not to shame the overweight children, but to make the parents of obese children realize that it is the food they serve their children (and the amounts they dole it out in) that is causing their children to become and stay overweight.

The ads are harsh. They make you uncomfortable to see and at least one of them made me tear up, as a young obese boy shakily asks his morbidly obese mother, “Mom, why am I fat?” and her only response is to silently hang her head in shame. Ooph. There have been many articles written about the commercials being awful or even counter-productive because of their shame-based approach to the issue of being fat, but Georgia’s Strong4Life felt strongly that traditional education/awareness-based campaigns that had been used in the past to inform the Georgia populace (which is second in the nation for childhood obesity) of the health concerns related to obesity were not working and that they needed a more extreme approach to “wake up” their community.

Now, imagine Paula Deen… a Georgia native, sitting back while the controversy around these anti-obesity ads swirled— and making the conscious decision to continue hiding her diabetes diagnosis while putting on her happy TV face to continue serving up the fried chicken, pies, and Krispy Kreme donut-encased cheeseburgers that have made her rich and famous.

Deen strikes me as a genuinely nice person, so I like to think that she was choking on each one of the super-unhealthy and super-tasty dishes she created in the years after her diagnosis. Money may make life easier in a million different ways, but it can’t buy a good night’s sleep that is free from the torments of conscience. (At least I hope it can’t, but I acknowledge a certain degree of idealism may be coloring my opinion here.)

So, while I’m glad she has finally stepped forward, I can’t help but find the hypocrisy of her decision to wait so long to reveal her illness galling. I don’t know what her net worth is, but I would assume it is enough that she could’ve used her status as a celebrity chef to acknowledge that diabetes is one of the major health consequences from leading a life of excess calories and then she could’ve used her platform to start creating new recipes that hold to the spirit of the South, but acknowledge that we can’t eat eat 2,000+ calories every time we sit down to eat.

Wouldn’t you want to know how a woman who has lived her life relishing Southern food, in all it’s salty, sugary, bacon-y, fatty glory, is able to reconcile her new dietary restrictions with what her taste buds want? Anyone can make healthy recipes, after all, not everyone can make one that satisfies that primal (and almost insatiable) desire for fatty/sweet/salty foodstuffs—a genetically hardwired trait that is one of the major factors in our nation’s ever-expanding waistline problem.

I challenge Paula Deen to show America what she really eats these days and to talk about what she did, personally— the missteps and will-power-related foibles, in particular— to teach herself how to eat the right way to keep herself healthy and happy. A lot of people would like to hear an announcement like that—and would respect her for sharing the fact that no matter how hard it is to change, it can be done in a way that still allows food lovers to relish every meal.

Photo Courtesy of: Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway

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