Paula Deen's public admission that she has Type 2 diabetes and her follow-up announcement that she is also a paid spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, and its diabetes drug, Victoza, has sparked an interesting debate about the deeper issues surrounding our food system--especially the impact it has on the many people diagnosed with diabetes. And according to Deen's comments on the Today show, she implies to her millions of fans, that the primary ways to deal with this largely diet-related disease are through personal responsibility and pharmaceuticals.
Indeed, when Al Roker, asks her if she is going to change the way she eats and the foods she cooks, Deen says, "Honey, I'm your cook, I'm not your doctor. You are going to have to be responsible for yourself." Evading the question, Deen puts the onus back on the individual to decide what foods to eat or not, despite the fact that she promotes unhealthful and processed foods on TV. The one comment she does make about food choice is "moderation," one of the most meaningless and confusing bits of nutrition advice. In fact, this is what the industry giants often use as their defense for harmful, unhealthful foods.
Personal responsibility and consumer choice are solutions heralded by conservatives and liberals alike--the idea being that ultimately good health comes down to what we choose to buy and eat. But it's not that simple.
There are three main issues when it comes to the myth of personal responsibility about food choice and they get at the root of our nation's health crisis: The public's confusion about nutrition; the lack of time and knowledge when it comes to real home cooking; and the promotion of quick fixes like drugs, diet foods, and fads in lieu of addressing underlying causes. The Paula Deen diabetes story manages to hit on every single one of these issues.
Americans suffer from nutrition confusion, thanks to an array of conflicting and often inaccurate public health messages, misleading labels and claims on packaging, and a lack of nutrition knowledge by many doctors, dietitians, and other health care providers.
Deen's cooking, and now her public diabetes announcement, only adds to this confusion. During the Today show interview she repeatedly mentions the amount of fat in her recipes, as do many in the media reporting on the story. "For 10 years, wielding slabs of cream cheese and mounds of mayonnaise," a New York Times article begins, "Paula Deen has become television's self-crowned queen of Southern cuisine."
But real, unprocessed cream cheese and mayonnaise are not the problem. The issue that mainstream media has largely overlooked is that Deen uses the processed, packaged versions of these foods, which are full of chemicals, additives and trans-fats. Actual home cooking would require whipping these foods up herself in her kitchen using real ingredients. And that is the real story behind Deen's diabetes diagnosis: Her health problems are largely due to her reliance on packaged, processed foods that are the foundation for many of her recipes.
Even though her cooking show is called Paula's Home Cooking, there's a lot going on in her kitchen that is as far removed from home cooking as you can get. Many of her recipes include "ingredients" like Krispy Kreme doughnuts, biscuit mixes, cans of mushroom soup, and sour-cream-and-onion flavored potato chips. This is processed food cooking, not home cooking.
Heaping the blame on all the "fat" she cooks with only serves to confuse the public further. A New York Daily News article also cites fat as one of the main culprits in Deen's cooking and her diet. But the most recent research indicates that when it comes to diabetes, fat is not the problem. The problem foods are sugar, refined white flour, chemical additives, artificial sweeteners and flavors, trans-fats, and the various other chemicals and additives found in the processed foods that abound in Deen's recipes.
Now Deen is pushing the idea that taking medicine is the real solution to diabetes. On the Today show, she says, "Here's what I want to get across to people, I want them to first start by going to their doctor and asking to be tested for diabetes. Get on a program that works for you. I'm amazed at the people out there that are aware they're diabetic but they're not taking their medicine."
According to Deen, the reason she waited three years to go public with her diagnosis was because she didn't have anything to give her fans. "I could have walked out and said, 'Hey ya'll, I have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.' I had nothing to give to my fellow friends out there. I wanted to bring something to the table when I came forward." So what is she bringing to the table? A sales pitch for a diabetes drug that costs $500 per month and has some seriously troubling side effects, including thyroid cancer, as Tom Philpott reports in Mother Jones.
Just think of the kind of influence she could have wielded had she come out with a new cooking show that focused on using fresh, real food ingredients that cut way back on sugar and refined carbohydrates. In fact, if she had done so and eaten this way for the past three years she might have reversed her own diabetes diagnosis.
But instead, Deen is getting paid to leave that task to a drug company. This isn't her first corporate sponsorship (here she peddles Smithfield ham) and I doubt it will be her last. Diabetic and diet foods can't be far behind in products she'll attach to her name.
Alas, we can't fairly discuss personal responsibility without taking into account the under-regulated advertising industry that pushes cheap, convenient, and processed foods on an overworked and cash-strapped population. Add to this the diminishing knowledge on how to shop for, cook, and prepare foods from scratch and we have a serious problem.
As Deen now joins the 25.8 million other Americans suffering with diabetes, she "brings to the table" the ideas of moderation, personal responsibility, and the drug Victoza as the solutions. She could do so much more with all the power she wields.
Anthony Bourdain put it squarely when he said of Deen, "If I were on at seven at night and loved by millions of people at every age, I would think twice before telling an already obese nation that it's OK to eat food that is killing us." And this was before her diabetes announcement. Bourdain has also said that Deen is the "worst, most dangerous person to America." He might have a point.
Paula Deen over the last three years has been essentially living a lie -- promoting her show that features high-fat, high-sugar cooking, while secretly living with diabetes and making a deal to promote a costly new diabetes drug. Hypocrite? Capitalist glutton? Shrewd businesswoman? If you watch her show or have bought her products, how do you feel after hearing this? Some of her fans are saying things like, everyone knows you don't eat like that every day, but the reality is that a lot of people actually do just that. And she's making her living off them. And now she's setting up to make even more money by telling people that they can keep eating that way *if* they take her $500/month medication. Do you really buy her "I wanted to bring something to the table" argument for why she kept this quiet for so long?
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I think anyone who so much as looks at Paula Deen and watches 10 minutes of her show gets that she is not the picture of health. I don't know that that is "lying" to cook caloric foods and then have diabetes.
That said, I absolutely do include some high fat/high sugar foods in my overall diet. I do think moderation is the key....and sometimes it is sooooo yummy.
It seems that people in the US would rather take a prescription than deal with the underlying problems (lack of exercise/caloric food intake/etc.)
I don't think Paula Deen is any more at fault than people who promote tv shows, suburbs who don't have sidewalks, or fast food restaurants. It is the combination of all of these things and 100 more factors that is the "problem"-- she need not by the fall guy for the US's obesity problem IMO.
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I tend to agree with Audra.
It's really up to her to have that kind of cooking show she wants, diabetes or not. Yes, there are confusing messages out there about nutrition, but it's up to the viewers to do their own research and find out the truth. Personally, I've never used any of her recipes, though I sometimes watch her show out of fascination, lol.
I do admit to wincing (and shuddering) a time or two when I've seen her piling on the butter and sugar (and I do mean PILING), and secretly hoping that the people out there who actually use her recipes are lean, athletic, and know how to eat those kinds of food in very small amounts. Ha.
I've never heard of her before this psuedo-drama. Since when does anyone have to disclose their health conditions? I no more see this as "hiding" something that I do Kelly Couric not talking about a yeast infection or a miscarriage.
She isn't a health coach, she is a cook who makes unhealthy food on tv. Her health is her business and she is responsible for it. Sounds like she is doing a crappy job with her own health, and encouraging others to eat crap too......but at the end of the day we are all responsible for what we put in our own mouths, not what Paula Deen puts in hers. I struggle to care about this.
Yeah, I agree with the others. You can see by looking at her the results of her food/exercise choices. I think it would be a worse "lie" not to have come out about the diabetes at all.
Like the article said, what an impact she could have made if she changed up her show and found new ways to cook her favorites that are healthier. It almost seems as if she still doesn't understand the connection between food and health.
I agree with pp.
Paula Deen is not a visual manifestation of running 5 miles a day. She has type 2 diabetes and I don't feel that she had a responsibility to announce it the moment she found out.
I think I have a choice to eat those foods, I think she has a choice to eat those foods. Her recipes are not a new concept. They are southern and the roots of most "home cooking" that has gone on in many kitchens.
Also, her son now had a show. Somthing like 'Not my mother's recipes' concept. He takes her recipes and lightens them up.
Every once in awhile I want some fried chicken, cornbread, mac n' cheese, _____(insert favorite guilty pleasure food)________, etc.... I will absolutely admit that and I have used her recipes when I am craving those foods.
Why isn't anyone ragging on Ina Garten? Tyler Florence? Julia Child? or basically any chef who is classically trained in French cookin. Butter and cream are the tenants of that cooking, where is that criticism
From my understanding, the French do not see full fat cream or butter as a problem, as long as you use it in moderation. I tend to agree. I've read some info on butter and full fat cheese and milk that said (in so many words) that there are certain types of saturated fats that act differently in the bloodstream and therefore do not cause clogged arteries.
However, they are also pretty high in cals, so moderation is key.
Paula Deen's type of cooking doesn't use it in moderation. Not even close. (Just speaking to the butter and cream thing here.)
I've seen her show a few times. Yeah, she piles on the crap, but I hardly think anyone looks at her recipes as a guideline for everyday eating. Do I think she's a bit of a fraud? Heck, yeah. But she's a capitalist and making a crapload of cash at the expense of the American waistline. That's her prerogative, albeit perhaps an irresponsible one. If her diabetes is due to her diet, she only has herself to blame. Bottom line is that people can kvetch and moan and displace responsibility all they want as to why they themselves developed diabetes (Oh man, I just saw that poundcake and had to make it for myself and eat the whole thing because Paula's southern accent is just so comforting!), or gained weight, etc., but if a television cooking show could be to blame in someone's mind, then maybe it's time to get off the couch and take a walk or go for a swim, or something.
I see this type of cooking/eating as just a part of a much larger problem and why western culture has such a problem with obesity. It's not necessary about the food; it's about portion size and inactivity, to name a couple factors.
In our house we don't use 'light' or '1/2 fat' or 'diet', or 'calorie wise' ANYTHING. I hate the taste of anything that's not the real deal, so to speak. However, butter, sour cream, salad dressing, cheese, gravy, etc. while FULL fat are used sparingly.
I really think it's stupid anyone is placing blame on her for their bad eating habits; as adults, we have to take respondsibility for the things that we eat in our lives. Any person with 1/2 a brain would realize from her shows, that none of her recepies are healthy. I've cooked several of her dishes and knew when I was putting a pound of butter or cheese in it, that it wasn't good for me (although it was delish).
I could careless that she kept her diagnosis to herself; that is her choice, her life. I would have done the same thing. And I also think she's a pretty smart business woman to make a "money" deal out of it.