Last week, after months (if not years) of speculation, Food Network star, and self-crowned queen of Southern cuisine, Paula Deen made an announcement of her Type 2 diabetes diagnosis – albeit 3 years after her initial diagnosis. Now the fact that a celebrity had decided to withhold news about a life-altering disease is hardly news; some would say it is decidedly within a person’s right to maintain privacy on such matters. Still, considering the nature of what Deen is famous for, a type of cooking predicated on supreme indulgence and high-fat foods, many people have cried foul on Deen’s lengthy silence, as well as her well-timed paid endorsement of a diabetes drug. Anthony Bourdain, another food celebrity and longtime critic of Deen (he has said that Deen, because of her unabashed promotion of highly processed, high fat foods, is “the most dangerous woman in America”) took to Twitter last week and criticized Deen’s decision to turn affliction into drug peddling profit by saying, “Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later.”
Deen, who is famous for concoctions like deep-fried chocolate cheesecake, Krispy Kreme bacon and egg burgers, and her unapologetic wielding of slabs of cream cheese and mounds of mayonnaise, has continued to extol the virtues of her buttery, artery-clogging Southern cuisine, but with the aid of Victoza, a noninsulin injectable diabetes medication that she began promoting last week, concurrent with the announcement of her diagnosis. Deen is being paid to spearhead Novo Nordisk’s (the maker of Victoza) upbeat new public-relations campaign, “Diabetes in a New Light,” which advocates using the drug along with eating lighter foods and increasing physical activity. However, when asked on the Today show last week how this diagnosis has changed the way Deen eats, she only made mention of drinking less “sweet tea.”
Paula Deen Makes a Krispy Kreme Burger
While it is fairly easy to condemn Deen with a certain smugness and condescension, we might be missing the point if we lay the blame squarely on the queen of butterfat and bacon grease. Deen, while absolutely contributing to the problem, is not precisely the reason why 1/3 of America is obese and at serious risk of diabetes (she only has herself to blame for her own diagnosis). America has long been riddled with a combination of guilt, entitlement and confusion when it comes to food and nutrition, and while some critics might say it all boils down to personal responsibility and free will, you can’t discount the impact that a well-promoted, relatively-cheap, highly indulgent diet of processed foods has had on our collective well-being. The problem, to a large degree, transcends the simple issue of personal responsibility, and quickly becomes an issue of access, reinforcement, and nutritional ignorance. Food writer Karen Wartman, in writing about this latest Deen development, sees the news as a confluence of a multitude of issues affecting the national health crisis:
“There are three main issues when it comes to the myth of personal responsibility about food choice and they get at the root of our nation’s health crisis: The public’s confusion about nutrition; the lack of time and knowledge about real home cooking; and the promotion of quick fixes like drugs, diet foods, and fads in lieu of addressing underlying causes. The Paula Deen diabetes story manages to hit on every single one of these issues.”
So Paula Deen’s narrative arch, one that used to be about the pleasures of culinary indulgence, has become something larger, something potentially tragic and pointing toward our nation’s significant health and nutrition problems. What is your take on all of this? Is Paula Deen one (unfortunate) person contending with her own choices and declining health, or do you think she should eat her words, mend her ways and apologize to the country for promoting an unhealthy lifestyle? Is her paid endorsement of the aforementioned diabetes medication entirely self-serving and the wrong message to send to America? Is Deen being unfairly scapegoated and blamed for America’s troubles with obesity and diabetes?
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