Deen's Birthday Bombshell
It’s Paula Deen’s birthday today. But we shouldn’t break out the deep fried Twinkies smothered in Cool Whip and celebrate like we might have in years past. This year her birthday has been overshadowed by some bad news: Paula Deen has Type 2 Diabetes. So, bang the drumstick slowly. This could be the saddest day for down-home diners since Colonel Sanders kicked the bucket.
Despite this diagnosis, my sympathy isn’t with Deen — it’s with all of the rest of us. Because yet again, we have allowed a charming leader to sweet talk us into disregarding our better judgment. The truth is Paula Deen has been conning us for years. But we’ve been so hopped up on a deep fried high that we ate up everything she could dish out — and still begged for more.
Deen has an insatiable appetite for dangerous eating. She never met an unhealthy dish that she couldn’t super-size into an even bigger health threat. Take the hamburger, for example. The Butter Belle seriously proposed taking the fast food staple to a new low by swapping out the nutritionally questionable white flour bun for an even-worse-for-you glazed donut.
But she didn’t stop there. She topped that off with two pieces of bacon. And then she added a fried egg on the tippy-top. Her name for this behemoth? Not something fitting like "the By-pass Burger." No. She dubbed it the “Lady’s Brunch Burger.” If this is her idea of dainty fare, you have to wonder what she’d shovel up for a Hungry Man meeting.
This masterpiece reminds me of another low-class, high-fat entree: a wrap that consists of a stick of butter wrapped in a waffle and smothered with Liquid Smoke. That recipe was the culinary creation of Homer Simpson, a cartoon character that routinely satirizes the average American's gluttonous eating habits.
But when Deen pitches her recipes, she’s deadly serious. I guess it’s sort of a “life” imitating “art” thing, to use both terms loosely. (And when it comes to things that fit loosely, figurative ones are the only kind you'll get if you are a Paula Deen devotee.)
I realize it might seem like I'm being harsh. After all, this poor, sweet lady has just been diagnosed with a serious illness. But that’s exactly my beef: Paula Deen is not poor or sweet, nor has she just been diagnosed. She learned she had the illness in 2008 — over three years ago. But she kept it a secret. Why? Because she knew that going public with the news could jeopardize her empire — an empire that was bringing home lots and lots of bacon.
Deen’s decision to keep her diagnosis under wraps while continuing to shill recipes for unhealthy eating — the very thing that contributed to (if not outright caused) her illness — sparks a memory of another southern institution that sought to keep the public in the dark about the serious health risks associated with its product, lest its profits go up in smoke.
So why did she decide to go public now? It wasn’t because duping her adoring fans was starting to give her some serious heartburn. It was because she inked a deal with Novo Nordisk to hawk that company’s diabetes management medication. So, once it became even more lucrative for her to let us in on her secret rather than keeping it from us, she was all too happy to spill the pork and beans.
I’m sorry if all of this sounds like sour grapes. I have to admit that this issue is personal for me. I’ve been a vegetarian for decades, and when my son Aaron was growing up, many people questioned whether raising him on a diet that did not include meat was a responsible parenting decision. People routinely told me they feared his growth might suffer without it. At 6’ 6” and 230 pounds, I think it’s safe to say that his 27 (and counting) years of vegetarianism have not had a stunting effect.
Yet a primarily whole foods, plant-based diet is still considered by most Americans to be alternative or extreme; while consuming fatty, sugary, deep fried, highly-processed “food” until you are so sick you need to take a myriad of medications, have daily injections or go under the knife is viewed as being more mainstream and normal. And once someone is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, rather than finally using it as a wake-up call to make overall changes in diet and lifestyle that would greatly reduce or even eliminate the illness, it’s more socially acceptable to simply cut back in superficial or temporary ways, and depend on surgery and medication to keep hobbling along.
So, even though it’s Paula Deen’s birthday, the only way I’ll celebrate is if she stops sugar-coating her illness and starts taking real responsibility for her own health. But with or without Deen teaching by example, we can nonetheless use both her illness and her duplicity as motivation to take better care of ourselves.
Because if we don’t, we all know for whom the Blue Bell tolls.