HomeBlogDisappointed With Paula Deen

Disappointed With Paula Deen

by Erin Z. Bass

Yesterday’s announcement that Paula Deen has type 2 diabetes and is also partnering with a drug company that treats the disease came as a bit of a shock to many Southerners. We knew that all that butter and dishes like “The Lady’s Brunch Burger” – a hamburger patty topped with two slices of bacon between two glazed donuts pictured below – weren’t good for her and that she’d probably wind up with some sort of condition, but I don’t think we ever expected her to wait three years to admit it, and only after she had backing from a drug company. I’d have expected her to say, you know what, I admit the things I’ve been cooking and eating all these years aren’t good for me and I’m going to make some changes to my diet. Her fans would have appreciated her honesty, stuck with her and hopefully made some changes in their own diets. And her non-fans, like Anthony Bourdain, may have respected her a little more. But that’s not at all the route she chose.

Feeling a bit of outrage at the news, I decided to ask our Facebook fans what they thought. I figured there’d be some die-hard Paula devotees who would stick up for her, but hoped others would agree with me that she sold out and missed an opportunity to take her career in a new, and better, direction. Well, only one person stuck up for her. The rest of you were disappointed and see her decision to partner with a drug company as an irresponsible way for her to profit from her diagnosis. Here’s just a few of the comments:

“She could help people. To reveal it only as an endorsement for a big pharm is disgusting to me.”

“I think that is pretty self serving that she waits 3 years after finding out that she has the problem before revealing the diagnosis! Plenty long enough to get all the bells and whistles legally finalized to benefit financially from it (BIG TIME)!”

“bottom line is – she sold out … So, for the past three years, she has been out promoting her food and filming her shows while deceiving her public – what a shame.”

“She’s really not thinking of all of us as family as she says we are to her.”

That last comment is especially telling, because Paula has defended her cooking by saying it’s what middle-class American families want and can afford. She’s obviously out of touch. I believe that sitting around the table with your family for dinner is important, but it doesn’t mean your kids have to eat dishes made with heavy cream and two sticks of butter. And omitting those ingredients and finding substitutes for them doesn’t have to cost more. Anthony Bourdain has criticized Paula for being “proud of the fact that her food is f—ing bad for you.” That’s not something to be proud of and neither is perpetuating the stereotype that all Southern food is fried, covered in a creamy sauce or topped with bacon.

I was glad to see Georgia Chef Hugh Acheson weigh in on eatocracy about Paula’s disconnect from the current state of Southern food. Titled “Southern food, beyond the butter,” Acheson says in his interview that he talked with Paula at the Texas Book Festival last year and asked her if she thought Southern food was continuing to evolve. Paula looked confused, so he went on explain how one of his dishes substitutes broken kernels of rice for grits and pairs them with a small portion of pork belly, kimchi and a pickle of local radishes. Her response? What’s wrong with just butter and salt in grits?

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with butter and salt in grits. It’s one of my favorite foods, but I know I can’t eat it every day nor do I want to when so many chefs are taking our basic foods in exciting new directions. Acheson’s recount of his attempt to have a food discussion with Paula is a great example of why she’s ultimately bad for Southern food. She’s not part of the discussion on where our regional cuisine is headed. The announcement of her diabetes diagnosis was her chance to become part of the discussion, but she’s not interested. She’s too busy blaming her viewers for actually eating the food she shows them how to cook, promoting Novo Nordisk and pimping out her sons in the whole deal.

I hope she at least pulled her butter-flavored lip gloss off the shelves.


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  • LPerilloux / January 19, 2012

    It is not Paula Deen’s responsibility to educate others. She is an entertainer, pure and simple. Deceiving her audience? Since when is an audience privileged to information about an entertainer’s medical condition?

    Is her decision to choose drugs over lifestyle changes irresponsible? Sure it is. But it affects no one but her. I’m hard pressed to believe anyone who has watched her show or used her recipes believes she was promoting healthy cooking.

    I’m not even a fan, really, I’m just a little disappointed that people feel they were or are owed anything but the entertainment provided by watching her show or reading her cookbooks.

  • Christy Farmer / January 19, 2012

    I agree Erin that she is definitely out of touch. As a proud mom, wife, and Southerner, I want to serve my family healthy, nutritious foods and it is possible to do so on a budget. A hamburger made from doughnuts? YUCK! Great post, Erin and definitely food for thought! (pun not intended) 🙂

  • Jeff / January 19, 2012

    First, on the matter of her selling out, I tend to sympathize to a degree. If you’ve ever been down to your last dollar, as she has (and as have I), it never leaves you. Your first instinct will always be self-preservation. Take whatever they’re offering, because it might not come again. Shilling for a product means nothing in this day and age. Perhaps aging Boomers still care about advertisement and celebrity endorsements, but Generation X is over it. And the Millenials could care even less.

    Second, in all fairness, she has always said, “I’m your cook, not your cardiologist.” She has never made any pretense about her food being healthy. And no one who is being honest with themselves thinks otherwise. There is a fatalism endemic to the Southern character that believes, as the old saying goes, “Gotta die of something, might as well be something I like.”

    And finally, the criticism from Bourdain has always struck me as far more hypocritical than anything Deen has ever done. Did he forget the twenty years he spent at Les Halles, cooking the butter- and bacon-happy bistro cuisine of the food-obsessed French? Tell me the difference, health-wise, between bechamel sauce and milk gravy? That the French don’t suffer the same health effects from their diet (or, at least, don’t get their flaws exposed in the national media to the same extent) as Southerners do has more to do with culture than cuisine.

  • Suzanne / January 19, 2012

    I am tired of everyone trying to make others eat how THEY think we should eat! I am NOT overweight. I DO get up off my behind and get exercise daily! I LOVE fresh veggies, and don’t eat a lot of meat. BUT
    every once in awhile, I get a yen for a pan of cornbread, with sweet butter slathered all over it. Do I eat this everyday? NO!

    People can watch Paula Deen do her thing on TV, knowing they can’t eat like that every day. And if they don’t know that, then they are MORONS!

    Get off Paulas case! She is a successful woman. She worked hard to get where she is today.

    Now, I’m gonna go eat my bran cereal with a banana. Would I rather have a big ole bowl of grits with a couple pats of butter? Heck, YES! I’ll do that one day this weekend…moderation! There’s the key to it all.

  • Miss Em / January 20, 2012

    I was already disappointed in her selling out to low quality products, low quality restaurants, and having her photos touched up like child beauty pageant shots. She’s been looking abnormally starry-eyed in her photos for several years now. I figured she was Type 2 diabetic already, as most people of that age and overweight for that long are. I guess I’m not surprised that she used yet another endorsement opportunity to announce it to the public.

    As for her food, her recipes are not tried and true lately. They’re not reliable or tested. Many times they don’t come out right. I’ve stopped looking for her recommendations a while back. Her early recipes are still great, but surely no one thought they could eat them every day and be eating healthy. I don’t fault her for that at all.

    But she sold her name all over the place and doesn’t quality check. That is not good.