Was Celebrity Chef Paula Deen Embracing ‘Personal Responsibility’ by Keeping Her Diabetes Secret?
I’m not normally one to pay much attention to celebrity “news,” but the announcement by TV chef and food personality Paula Deen that she has Type 2 diabetes continues to elicit strong reactions across the Internet. And for good reason.
Deen, the 64-year-old star of Food Network shows Paula’s Best Dishes and Paula’s Home Cooking, is known for her no-apologies style of decadent, high-fat, high-cholesterol Southern cooking. Butter-poached lobster, a bacon-and-fried-egg burger served between glazed doughnuts and a lasagna “sandwich” are three of the more outrageous examples of her recipes.
That she has continued to champion this kind of food despite knowing for the last three years that she was diabetic has elicited strong criticisms — especially since she also announced that she would be paid to promote the diabetes drug she takes on behalf of a large pharmaceutical company.
As you’d guess from a celebrity chef with millions of viewers, Deen has her share of defenders. On Twitter and comment boards, their arguments tend to fall into two camps: One says that people are simply piling on her suffering; the other holds that Deen isn’t telling anyone what to eat and that people have a personal responsibility to watch their diets.
To which I say: there’s certainly truth to that; and hold on, now.
Of course people should be responsible for their own actions and nutritional habits. But shouldn’t that ideal by rights extend to Deen herself? Why should she be immune from that equation?
Here’s a woman whose cooking shows reach millions of homes; an author of numerous cookbooks whose name appears on cookware and pork chops alike; and a charismatic icon of high living beloved for her drawl and her inspiring personal tale of triumphing over adversity. She has been given a global stage, along with all the power and influence that comes with it, and she has chosen to push deep-fried butter balls to a nation facing an obesity crisis. Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes.
Deen meets the criteria for a perfect storm of risk factors. She turns 65 on Thursday; she admitted last fall she smoked a pack and a half a day. She will also deep fry anything, and I mean anything: macaroni and cheese, stuffing, even butter itself. For years, she’s existed as the Keith Richards of cholesterol, seeming to survive solely on pork fat, powdered sugar and rum. Yet Deen told Al Roker Tuesday, “I have always encouraged moderation. I share with you all these yummy, fattening recipes, but I tell people, in moderation … it’s entertainment. People have to be responsible.” Of course, what makes for an artery-seizing episode of television is not necessarily a lifestyle endorsement. As Deen likes to say, “I’m your cook, not your doctor.”
To her credit, Deen says she’s begun walking each day on a treadmill and has given up drinking sweet tea. That’s good. But she’s also said her diagnosis won’t change what she cooks on her show (she’s apparently leaving that up to her two sons). And she hedged her response when asked — twice — by the Today Show’s Roker whether her diagnosis has changed the way she eats. “I’ve always eaten in moderation,” she said. Take a look:
Her response to having diabetes, a potentially life-threatening disease, is also depressingly familiar. I can’t tell you how many friends and relatives of mine are frustrated because doctors gave their parents a choice: Either treat your diabetes, heart disease or what have you by walking and eating more salads or take an expensive prescription drug, and they chose the latter. With older generations, it often seems, old habits die hard.
What do you think of Paula Deen’s announcement? Should she have come clean to her fans sooner? Are people unfairly piling on? Or is she missing a golden moment to make change and educate others?
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