Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Minor rant: Pay no attention to that woman hidden behind that stick of butter

So. Paula Deen. Full disclosure: I have never watched Paula Deen on TV. Of course, I've seen and heard about her, because she's become such a cultural fixation. Even NPR and The New York Times.

Now I know what you're expecting me to say, that the fact a woman who sandwiches hamburgers in doughnuts is getting her comeuppance, blah, blah, blah.  The whole story is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.  Which I would never do, because, true stuck-up foodie that I am, I prefer my salmon wild-caught (lower in fat AND better for the environment, you see).

The truth is, from what I've seen of her, I like Paula.  She's very funny.  Don't get me wrong--I wouldn't touch her food with a ten-foot butter knife.  Or cook it for that matter.  I like to bake, but, even simply eyeballing her recipes, they are all far too sugary for my taste, and far to reliant upon processed, prepackaged ingredients.

The whole uproar about her diabetes is a bit predictable, though.  Paula Deen's food is unhealthy. She has diabetes so that proves it is unhealthy.

Guess what?  Newsflash: Even if Paula Deen DIDN'T have diabetes, her food would STILL be unhealthy and contain more calories than the average person should consume in a day.  This always reminds me about the pointed comments my stepmother makes, that my Greek grandmother lived to almost ninety, and never ate vegetables, and "ate nothing but meat and sweets." 

Sadly, the fact that my grandmother was quite overweight, and could never move around comfortably was not seen as a downside to making those life choices.  Some people, of course, struggle with tremendous physical challenges, through no fault of their own--but how sad to be limited, physically, by something that you could seek to change.

I think there is some fair criticism about the fact that Deen only revealed that she had diabetes after being paid to shill for a diabetes drug. That is pretty crass and craven, although given that Deen also televised her wedding (apparently) for a fee, it's not exactly this is the first time she's cannibalized her personal life for monetary gain.

I think the issue annoys me so much because you can NEVER generalize about any particular food/lifestyle/etc. based upon the health history of ONE PERSON.  The best example of this is Doctor "Eat the bacon and the butter, leave the bread and the orange juice" Atkins.  You could practically hear all of the low-fat/high-carbohydrate/vegan advocates waiting for him to keel over from a heart attack.  And all of the 'carbs will kill you' dieters were certain he would live as long as Methuselah. However, the good doctor will have a lasting place in my heart, because bless his saturated fat-laden little soul, he clearly understood literary irony, and chose to die by slipping and falling on ice, which anyone could do, regardless of whether they had eggs or fruit for breakfast.

Guess what?  Some people are overweight and eat horribly and don't get diabetes. Some people are relatively slender, work-out, and still develop it. But there is no question, based on a wealth of scientific studies, that not exercising, being obese, and engaging in unhealthy lifestyle habits can dramatically increase your risk for developing the condition.  It doesn't mean that you will get diabetes 'fer sure' just that you are increasing your risk if you have those factors present in your life, particularly if you couple that with an unfortunate genetic legacy.

It doesn't matter what one celebrity chef cooks or eats.  At all. Some diabetics have had worse luck than others--the question is, how to you want to eat to lead a more enjoyable life?  For me, that means being active to do the things I love.

EVERYONE who has something to say about this (except me, because I am totally objective and unemotional like a kind of foodie Vulcan) already had their mind made up about Deen. Hard core health foodies regard her as their Kryptonite and were longing for this news bite more than their first soy almond milk latte in the morning.  People who think Paula is sweet will still buy her cookbooks and say it's in the genes.

Mainly, I feel pretty sad for her--for all of her wealth and no matter how many drug endorsements she makes, she can't buy good health.  And while people who do 'eat to live' and not 'live to eat' are often portrayed as joyless, I have to say that since I became the person I am today--someone who runs/eats more vegetables/flosses/gets up early, I am very much a happier person, a more generous person, and a person with more curiosity about what I do with my life and my body. It's funny that hedonism regarding food (and other indulgences) can actually be very limiting, and actually shackle you to a life of less mobility, rather than liberate you with a wild and crazy lifestyle. 


  1. I like Paula Deen, always have, I like the fact that she kind of thumbed her nose to the health craze. Though I too find she uses too much sugar and fat in some recipes, but I think that her recipes were much more true to their origins than most.
    Where I think people get caught is that they seem to think that just because she cooked that way as part of her celebrity, that means she ate that way every day of her life, and therefore deserves to have diabetes. It's like people not being able to seperate the actor from the character. I'm willing to bet she ate perfectly reasonabley at home and with her family. And this is what irks me the most about comments or complaints on her food. If you don't realize that her food is not to be eaten everyday of your life, than it's your fault, not hers.

  2. I think it's sad that anyone would feel any kind of schadenfreude from the fact that Paula has diabetes, or attack her as a hypocrite. Even if she is a public figure, her health issues are still none of our business unless she chooses to tell us. But Does she have to be shilling for a pharmaceutical company?? That part makes it really icky. Of course it's maybe not her fault personally that we live in a society where the Agribusiness/Pharma Industrial Complex seems to like getting us hooked on food that makes us sick in our younger years so that we need drugs when we are older. She's made how many gazillions of dollars endorsing processed food and now she is going to make even more on the drug side? Talk about having your bacon-encrusted deep fried cheesecake and eating it too.

  3. @Adam--the issue of 'authenticity' is one that's debated a great deal amongst Southern cooks--I've heard lots of people with Southern roots say that Paula's cooking is like what their mothers or grandmothers made. Others say that she uses too many convenience shortcuts and point to Edna Lewis as a truer example of authentic Southern food (peach pie from scratch, fried chicken, and so forth). Of course, both are probably right, and there are different 'authentic' Southern cuisines, depending on what era you grew up in, the area you are from, and so forth...I'm not sure how or what Paula ate every day, but I also agree with you very much that it is always a mistake to confuse a person's projected persona on television with the 'real' person.

    @MD--The shilling for a diabetes drug and only 'coming out' after getting an endorsement deal is what makes my skin crawl. I have friends who are diabetics, and I realize that drugs are heaven-sent to some, but the first part of any type II diabetes management strategy is dietary modification and exercise, and really, what the public needs is more information about that--not another drug.

  4. That's like my MIL telling me running will wreck my body and leave me crippled and pointing out Jim Fixx had a heart's all about moderation.

  5. @The Blonde Duck--omg! My draft post mentioned Jim Fixx--I get that ALL of the time. And Fixx had a freaky genetic history--his father died at age 35 from a heart attack, and Fixx died in his 50s from a heart attack, so running may actually have had a protective effect...

  6. You're absolutely right about not generalizing from one case. My mom has been a Type 2 for more than 30 years, a result of genetics and not diet. In fact, she's always been slightly underweight and the diabetes only makes it more difficult for her to eat enough to keep her weight up.

    I don't really care about Paula Deen's choices, but in general I'm opposed to the advertising of prescription medications, and celebrity endorsements just add a layer of grossness to that. The particular drug that she's endorsing is fairly new, I believe, and has some serious side effects, including the risk of developing thyroid cancer. Since most cases of Type 2 diabetes result from being overweight, a non-functioning thyroid is the last thing those people need.

  7. @flurrious--I knew a skinny guy (so skinny that he had to sit on a jacket on hard stools) and like your mom, his blood sugar ran high, simply because diabetes ran in his family. It is very important to remember, not simply because people can be very judgmental when they talk about type II diabetes, but because it is more likely to go undetected in thin or normal-weight people. (And because it's possible to be overweight, not diabetic, but have other health problems).

    The side effects of that new 'wonder drug' sound horrific. If it wasn't for my freedom of speech principles, I would really love to see an end to direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals.