Rant: Leave Paula Deen Alone
I’ve had it with Anthony Bourdain. Yes, he’s funny and he’s a terrific writer, but he’s also an ill-informed hypocritical jerk. My least favorite comment from him was on Twitter:
“Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later.”
Yes, Paula Deen clearly deliberately developed diabetes so she could sell drugs. Oh, wait, you didn’t know she had diabetes and was fronting for a drug company? Okay, let’s start over.
Paula Deen is the queen of Southern cooking, a woman who never met a fat she didn’t immediately sprinkle sugar on, the author of the recipe for deep-fried butter (no joke, you add cream cheese to the stick). She is also diabetic, something she found out two years ago and failed to tell anyone. Why? Because it was nobody’s damn business but hers.
Oh, but critics say, barely concealing their glee at her butter-and-cream downfall, she’s been dishonest since she’s still doing high-fat cooking without apology. She got diabetes because of the way she cooks, so it’s criminal for her to keep slinging out those high fat recipes, let alone shill for the Big Pharma company she’s just signed up with. She’s dangerous and unethical and money-grubbing and . . . and . . . she cooks with too much fat! Or as Tamara Dietrich of the Daily Press put it:
Celebrity cook Paula “I Love Butter” Deen just announced she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The real news? What a shocker it wasn’t. Slap enough hamburgers, fried eggs and bacon between two glazed doughnuts, call the monstrosity “The Lady Brunch Burger,” and sooner or later it’ll catch up with you. Sort of like a coronary. Or karma.
Except being overweight does not cause diabetes. No, really, it doesn’t, look at the medical research. Most overweight people do not develop diabetes. Some very slender people do. In fact, research shows that while fat does not cause diabetes, diabetes may cause fat because of something called a thrifty gene. So some people out there could eat Paula Deen recipes twenty-four-seven and never ever develop diabetes. They’re probably going to stroke out or die of a heart attack because that food is not healthy for you, but they’re not going to get diabetes because of Paula’s hamburger-between-two-Krispy-Kreme entrees. (This is also why you shouldn’t imply to diabetics that if they’d eaten better in the past, they wouldn’t be diabetic now. Trust me as a newly diagosed diabetic, it only makes us want to kill you and bury you in butter fat.)
Also, and I could be wrong here because I’ve never watched Paula Deen (although full disclosure, I bought her toaster), I don’t think she ever held up her Twinkie Pie and said, “This is health food.” Unless people have been living under rocks, they already know that high fat food is bad for them. And yet we eat french fries instead of baked potatoes, gulp down milkshakes instead of ice water, and head straight for the chocolate cake instead of the nice piece of fruit your mother wants you to eat. We do it because those things taste good, because they’re comfort foods, and if we do it too much, they become uncomfortable foods, so we shouldn’t do it too much, but that doesn’t mean Steak N Shake is evil and irresponsible even if every person who works there is diabetic. It’s about choice. We get to choose. I choose to avoid the deep fried butter, but I don’t think my aversion to it means that nobody should have access to it. And I don’t think the fact that I can’t eat most of Paula Deen’s cooking (and now she can’t either) means that it’s wrong for her to tell people how to make it.
But mostly, I’m appalled at the glee with which people are piling on Deen with headlines like “Paula Deen’s Big Fat Secret.” We’ve already covered the inaccuracy–you don’t get diabetes because you’re fat–but take it beyond that to the part where people are exulting over the fact that this woman, who as far as I can see is a pleasant, fun-to-watch, nice person who’s never taken to Twitter to make fun of anybody, has just been diagnosed with a incurable disease that could have major complications down the road for her. If she’d been diagnosed with arthritis or cancer or been hit by a truck, people would sympathize. But because she wields a stick of a butter like a baton, people are rolling in the fact that she has a serious illness. There’s a sense of superiority there that is as distasteful as it is misplaced since I seriously doubt that all of the people snarking at her have given up fat, sugar, and alcohol and can therefore stand on the high ground and throw whole-grain spitballs at her.
Especially since diet does not cause diabetes.
Which brings us back to Bourdain, who eats anything he wants (as well he should), drinks like a fish, and has had in the past a self-confessed serious hard drug problem. Why this icon of do-anything-he-damn-well-pleases (and again, good for him) has decided that it’s okay to trash Deen for her high fat recipes strikes me more as elitism and paternalism than it does honest, well-thought-out criticism. If we’re going to be punished for dietary indiscretions in the past, Bourdain is due for some serious medical jail time, although not diabetes because diabetes is not caused by diet. The hypocrisy is troubling but not as much as the reason for it: Paula Deen is a happy, middle-class, over-weight, middle-aged woman who has no claim to culinary arts. The woman deep fries butter, for Christ’s sake, of course a food snob like Bourdain is going to sneer at her. But taking advantage of her medical condition to gloat is just being a lousy human being, and unfortunately he’s got a lot of company.
Of course, what Bourdain’s really mad about is that Deen is taking a big pay off from a drug company to promote a diabetes drug. She’s making hay off a bad harvest by monetizing her condition. And since she has a fervent fan base who will buy anything she slaps her name on, pushing a diabetes drug is exploiting humanity. Or something. But what if this drug is the best thing to ever happen to diabetes and she’s getting it to people faster? Even if it’s just a drug that’s given her really good results, that’s a reason to recommend it to people. So in that case, is he trashing her because she’s making money from the recommendation? No celebrity endorsements? If it’s not a good or necessary drug, and Deen knows it, then yeah, she’s slime, but I haven’t seen any discussion of that at all, nobody’s even looking at the drug. (For the record, it’s been used for awhile, it seems to be effective, and it’s useful as an alternative for those who cannot use the very popular and effective Byetta.) Instead, they’re saying, “Paula Deen tells people to cook with fat and that’s why she has diabetes and now they’re going to get diabetes and then she’ll make money because they’ll buy the drug she recommends.”
First, fat does not cause diabetes.
Second, people have free will, they get to choose what they cook and what they buy.
Third, there is no reason why she shouldn’t make money from a celebrity endorsement. Hell, if I could turn a profit on my diabetes, I would.
Fourth, people should stop being so damn pious about food. It’s food. Yes, it has a big impact on your health, but so does exercise and environment and heredity and the randomness of the universe which means you could get hit by a bus the next time you step off a curb. So you look both ways before you cross, and you don’t eat Twinkie Pie for breakfast every day, but you don’t get smug about it and you sure as hell don’t use food piety to beat up on a woman who is dealing with an incurable disease with grace, humor, and a keen eye for the bottom line.
Leave Paula Deen alone. Fat does not cause diabetes.