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.