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.