Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Few Words About Paula Deen

As a baker who writes about it, I have a little bit to say about a current story in the news.

The revelation this week by Paula Deen that she has Type 2 Diabetes, and has known about it for three years, has the world buzzing.  Paula is being vilified by medical doctors and others who say that by continuing to promote her fat-and-sugar-laden recipes while negotiating a deal to be the spokeswoman for a Diabetes drug company is hypocritical if not downright unethical.  To paraphrase, Chef Anthony Bourdain calls Deen "...the most dangerous woman in America."  Doctors on morning talk shows are speaking out about Deen's irresponsibility in face of the dangers of obesity and its impact on Americans.  Perhaps negotiating with a drug company is what is really leaving a bad taste in peoples' mouths more than Deen's style of cooking.  Or, maybe some people are envious of a self-made woman who continues to fight to keep what she's earned.  Maybe Deen is looking out for herself, as she's always had to.  Look at her humble origins and the force she has become.   In business, she has always fought and won.  And now she's fighting a personal battle for her health while publicly advocating moderation when discussing the recipes that have made her famous.  I can't see her doing anything differently.

I don't know...

The Food Network, and cable television in general, I believe, have to diffuse some of the heat on this one.  They hired Deen to do what she does: to charm us as she delivers Southern goods, a smiling, cheerful, grandmotherly woman in a beautiful kitchen.  Her show is TV's version of comfort food as she lovingly combines the richest of ingredients and practically serves her fixings right to the camera's lens.  A good portion of her followers watch her as entertainment, but don't go out and make her recipes (true of many "foodie" fans).  For many who do use her recipes, it's likely not an everyday, or even an every week, thing.  Maybe you'll make her banana walnut cake for a special birthday, but you probably won't make it more than once a year.  And that hamburger with bacon and egg served up on a glazed donut?  I don't know anyone who'd ever actually do that, though the Food Network sure thought it would garner an audience, more as a Ripley-like "believe it or not" amusement than anything else, I'm guessing...  If we tune in to watch it, we're contributing to its promotion.

I don't have cable TV and haven't had it for almost three years, about the same time that Deen was diagnosed.  For me, now, food TV is what's offered up on PBS.  Cooks Country is one of my favorite shows, and to be sure, butter and cream abound there, as it does in reruns of Julia Child's cooking shows.  Lidia Bastianich is no stranger to butter, olive oil, fatty meats, and cheese.  And what about Rachael Ray?  She uses a lot of meat and dairy products, and cheese seems to dominate many of her recipes.  Popular baking shows like Cupcake Wars promote, what else, cupcakes.  And what are cupcakes but white flour, sugar, butter, cream cheese, and cream? Should all these shows be called on the kitchen mat for promoting unhealthy ingredients?  No.  They should not.  People watch these shows for entertainment.  Maybe more cupcake shops have opened up because of it, but how often does one go out specifically for a $4-plus cupcake? 

Cooking shows are more popular than ever, yet in researching the final paper for my masters thesis on the history and relationship of women in the kitchen, I discovered that more families are eating out, more often, than ever before. So, we're watching these indulgent food shows on TV, but most of us are not recreating that food in our kitchens. 

Maybe we should put the microscope to those massive meals and deals offered up by the national chain restaurants lining our highways.  Better yet, maybe we should take personal responsibility for what we order out, or put in our shopping carts, on our table, or in our children's mouths, and make healthy choices most of the time, and an indulgent one now and then.

That's my two-cents.


  1. Loved this!! I understand every part of it! And guess what? I got to see her up close and personal at an Antiques Market and at the Atlanta Gift Mart when I was in Atlanta last weekend. She is a very real person....and a lot smaller in person! I would never have known it was her except for her beloved Southern accent! Her sons and others were with here as well. For the most part, people were leaving her alone...and as she was totally in disguise...I can see why! No makeup...and still beautiful! Frumpy, baggy clothes...and yet looked smaller...not small mind you! But smaller! Hair in a pony tail and baseball cap....and that endearing smile always on her face! It was a true treat for me!
    You are so right about loving to watch her show...and yet I hardly ever fix her recipes! When I do make a casserole or whatever...I always cook with the light version of ingredients...It is definitely up to us as individuals to make wise choices....MODERATION is the key!!! In so many different areas of life!
    Thanks for this post!

  2. Carolyn, that must have been very exciting! She is a very dynamic woman, and very real in person, I bet. Whatever anyone has to say about Paula Deen, she has a gracious and generous heart, and she is possesses a joyful spirit. Good for you that you were able to experience that for yourself!

  3. Jeannie I agree with you wholeheartedly! & yes, as you & Paula agree, moderation is the key! When I went shopping tonight, I tried to keep that in mind as I always do, but along with my blueberries & oatmeal & broccoli & salmon, I also got light butter & 1% milk & reduced fat sour creme, but regular Hellman's & regular Creme Brule coffee creme & Edy's French Silk Light Ice Creme instead of Graeter's Black Raspberry Chip! ;~} & of course, a bottle of Vodka to celebrate my Giants this weekend, and hopefully Super Bowl anticipation during my Birthday week next week! I know I must walk more & drink more water as I've promised myself I'll do in 2012, but nothing compares to great food & baked goods when your soul needs to be nourished, your spirits lifted, and family & friends brought together, as isn't this what life is all about?! & life is too short....& worry about looking like a supermodel! ;~} xo

  4. Weez - love that! Your shopping cart is all about balance! Can't stop living, I agree. Life is to be lived and enjoyed, and celebrated with good friends and good food! Thanks for commenting, and have a glorious weekend!