Deen there, done that

I’ve been experiencing various levels of annoyance at various times over the last few days. Much of this is heat(-wave) related, but mostly it’s from witnessing the brouhaha over the Paula Deen “scandal’ in the food media world. Practically every media outfit has their own take on it, but the facts are these:

– Deen (the “butter queen“, or as Frank Bruni put it, the ‘deep-fried doyenne of a fatty, buttery subgenre of putatively Southern cooking’) recently announced that she has Type 2 diabetes;

– She has known this for three years already;

– She is receiving money from Novo Nordisk to plug Victoza, a new diabetes drug (with as yet questionable benefits: those evil Danes!). Victoza is pretty expensive compared to other drugs on the market – think $500 a month vs. $20 a month.

The scandal includes any or all of the following:

a) she has deceived her audiences

b) she is a shill

c) she is a shilling a product that ordinary (read: poor) people cannot afford 

d) she is still fat (well, no one says it like that, but that’s what they mean when they comment on her not having made ‘significant lifestyle changes’)

e) she wasted three years not teaching her viewers how to cook healthy food.

Now, I’m not going to enter into the shilling debate. This piece in the LA Times did a fairly good job of convincing me the major problem with this, which is the illusion of a quick-fix solution that Deen’s deal with the evil Danes promotes:

‘The life of a diabetic is somewhat less than swell — but Novo Nordisk is selling swell, alongside drug companies that promise to medicate away depression, gas, incontinence, clogged arteries and fibromyalgia. … Support and encouragement is one thing, but what we’re being sold is magical thinking. In the battle between healthcare reality and fantasy, Paula Deen is small potatoes (steamed, skins on, no butter), but what she represents matters: another attempt to market immortality to a culture that’s particularly in love with misbehaving, followed by an easy fix.’

What does irk me, though, are the various permutations of a) and e), above. Suddenly now (or then, as it happens) that she has diabetes, Deen is only allowed to cook “healthy” food on television? Suddenly she now has a responsibility to make her audiences healthy too, and thereby fix the diabetes/obesity crisis? Maybe it would be a good idea for her to stop tasting and eating the food that she is apparently so good at making (even though she has pointed out that – surprise surprise – what we see her make on TV is not actually how she eats every day, and that her shows are for entertainment), but that shouldn’t stop her fans from making her fatty, buttery recipes if they damn well please. Should watching Anthony Bourdain sucking foie off a plate come with a diabetes advisory?

Bruni’s piece does an excellent job of describing the classist hypocrisies at play in much of this finger-wagging. But I am less disturbed by that than the evidence, once again, of how ready people are to blame their problems on someone else, and to expect someone else to fix them. It’s also an appetite for scandal which turns out to be a really convenient excuse to not think clearly about the actual issues, which as chef José Andrés also points out in this CBS interview, are quite simply not Paula Deen’s to fix.

Rant over. Now go buy the book.

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