Is Paula Deen the devil?

Have you heard the news? Television chef and cookbook author Paula Deen has type 2 diabetes. Shocker.

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Anyone who is familiar with Deen knows she’s made a name for herself with her outgoing personality and down-home Southern cooking; complete with loads of butter, cream cheese and bacon. In fact, Deen’s cookbook, “Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible,”  was named one of the worst cookbooks list of 2011 according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The fact that she has type 2 diabetes shouldn’t be surprising, though the fact that she was diagnosed three years ago and just announced it yesterday is raising a few eyebrows. Yesterday, when she made shrimp and scallop fraiche (meaning cream), chicken divan (meaning cream, cheese, butter, mayo) and lemon cake (meaning cake) on her Food Network show. Yesterday, when she announced her new partnership as a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical company that supplies her diabetes medication.

According to Deen, she waited to make her condition public because she wanted to “bring something to the table” when she came forward. She’s also been quoted as saying she doesn’t intend to change her lifestyle much. So what exactly was it she wanted to bring to the table? An assumedly lucrative endorsement deal for diabetes medication?

No, I don’t think Paula Deen is the devil. I think she’s a woman facing an incredible challenge. Think about it: not only has she lived her entire life eating the food she cooks, she’s built an empire selling that way of life. That’s a pretty difficult pattern to break, and I wouldn’t even begin to vilify her for having trouble making lifestyle changes.

I do, however, think she is being reckless with the message she is sending. For example, Deen has said that after her diagnosis, she wasn’t about to change her life, but type 2 diabetes does change your life. Over time, it ravages your systems, decreasing mobility, endangering your vision and in extreme cases, jeopardizing your limbs. In addition, it increases your risk of a host of other health problems, including heart disease. And the idea that making slight dietary changes, reducing portion sizes of fat-laden foods, and “running after grandchildren,” is enough to keep diabetes in check, seems irresponsible to me.

I also have trouble swallowing the idea that medication is the perfect solution. It’s wonderful we have drugs that help with diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. And for some people, these drugs are life-saving. But I’ve heard far too many stories of people relying on medication as a magic bullet to fix years of poor lifestyle choices, and it just doesn’t work that way. Yes, the meds help, but they can come with a high price tag and a host of side effects.

Diabetics are often blamed for their condition, and Deen’s announcement has been met with much criticism in the foodie world and beyond. While the connection between a high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt diet and type 2 diabetes is unbreakable, there is more to it than that, and scolding someone after the fact does no good. We are each responsible for our own choices, our own health, and when faced with a diagnosis such as Deen’s, our own treatment plan.

So who cares if Paula Deen continues to cook like a crazy person? You don’t have to cook that way. But you could use this as yet another opportunity to educate yourself and your family members about the dangers, challenges and joys of what you put in your mouth every day.


2 thoughts on “Is Paula Deen the devil?

  1. Jamie Atlas says:

    This is a great blog post. As a personal trainer the biggest challenge I have is getting people to hear the train coming down the track. If you continue on the path you’re on you can’t expect a different result. The challenge is what price change? Paula obviously has a large investment financially in the lifestyle she purports to live – her comfort food has made her millions – would she be willing to give that up? Or perhaps she’ll try to go the route of losing weight and cooking new food in her show…I’m sensing a weight watchers before/after story here – I guess it will depend on whether her publicist can convince her it’s a good career move.

    • wishfit says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I too, will be interested to see where she goes with this. Right now it’s kind of a mixed message. She’s talking a lot about how she has always believed “moderation” yet also saying she doesn’t plan to change her lifestyle much. Hmmmm.

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