Paula Deen cooks up disappointment with diabetes drug announcement
Usually, when I see Paula Deen's thousand-watt smile and Kewpie doll eyes I think of one thing: Butter.
In an amazingly memorable episode of "Iron Chef America" the Southern cook teamed up with Cat Cora to take on Tyler Florence and Robert Irvine in "Battle: Sugar!" In the episode, Paula plays to the audience, cackling with deep-fried energy and one-liners, making the other three chefs and a sous chef in elf gear look like scenery. All the while, she's putting on a show within a show with made-for-TV moves such as grabbing a pound of butter, dumping it in a pan with a half-melted loaf of processed cheese and chirping for the camera, "My favorite ingredient, butter!"
So, naturally, my association with Paula Deen and butter, is normal. And, I imagine, many of you also have the very same direction association. Makes sense, right? Right.
But ever since Tuesday morning, when I see those impossibly blue eyes and wide grin of Southern hospitality, all I can think is: What a waste.
In case you missed it, the queen of Southern cooking confirmed Tuesday morning on the "Today" show that she has Type-II diabetes. Like many Americans, she had no clue until she went to her doctor for a routine physical ... three years ago.
Never mind that she's been whipping up sweet potato praline crunch pie and other heart-stopping delights for three years since finding out that she'd need watch her blood glucose levels. That's untruthful and severely reckless behavior, to be sure, but what was really disappointing came next.
Next, rather than launching a new line of diabetic-friendly recipes or talking about how she's overhauled her diet in the name of health, Deen instead batted her eyelashes, put that grin in place and announced to the world she was to be a paid spokeswoman for a diabetes drug company.
Of course, because the hot glare of the "Today" show lights doesn't come without a probing question or two, Al Roker (yes, they had the giggly weatherman interview Paula) tried his best to do an impression of a hard-hitting journalist and asked her directly if her rich recipes had anything and everything to do with her diagnosis. After a great deal of hokey-pokeying around like an experienced politician, her collective answer on the subject seemed to amount to this: "I'm not a doctor, I'm a chef. Here, take this drug."
Now, I know Paula Deen didn't sign up to be a moral compass when she burst onto the cooking scene in the mid-1990s, all personality and butter pats. Anyone who becomes a celebrity doesn't automatically lose the chance for independent thought, going against the grain or making unpopular decisions. Celebrities are people too, and they aren't perfect, as we've seen time and time again.
But, and it's a voluminous but, celebrities do have to think a bit harder about their actions because their influence is at a premium. I suppose that is why I was so disappointed with Paula on Tuesday. She missed out on a fabulous chance to reach out to the masses and promote healthy eating.
Because of her personality and power and history, if she had said, "Hey, I have diabetes and though I still like rich foods, I am learning to cook in a healthful way and I want to share my healthier recipes with you," that would've been incredible. We all know where she's been (fried mac and cheese, Krispy Kreme bread pudding) and if a lifestyle change were where she was going, it would mean much to many Americans who are struggling with diabetes or pre-diabetes. There would be a certain, "If Paula can change, I can too" oomph attached to such a decision that could light a fire for someone who can relate to her right down to a diabetes diagnosis.
But she didn't do that. Instead, she told us rich foods were merely a puzzle piece in the diabetes epidemic. True, yes, genetics do play a role, as does exercise and weight, to be sure. But diet is a puzzle piece so massive, it would basically play the role of Brazil if diabetes happened to look like South America.
To be fair, Paula's sons have just launched a show that includes healthier recipes called, ironically or not, "Not My Mama's Meals." But you know what? That's not enough.
That show isn't Paula's baby, and it doesn't come with the weight of her word. We could watch her health-minded son, Bobby, make "Bobby's Lighter Gooey Butter Cake," for the masses but, for all his good intentions, an entire season's worth of recipes from Bobby Deen isn't worth an iota of what his mother could've done with a single statement and some personal responsibility.
Instead, her announcement smacks of greed as much as mutual disappointment and it's certainly a bitter taste.
With the backlash she's gotten since her announcement, I hope that Paula decides to use her powers for the greater good, and gets into the kitchen to whip up healthier, diabetes-friendly fare that tastes good — and has the potential to help millions of sick Americans find the road to better health, butter be darned.