Paula Deen's Diabetic Debut Is a Shitshow

Illustration for article titled Paula Deens Diabetic Debut Is a Shitshow

This morning, Paula Deen was on the Today show, confirming that yes, she does have type 2 diabetes. And, she was diagnosed three years ago. "It is not a death sentence," Deen asserted. Still: Diabetes is a serious disease — the American Diabetes Association notes that diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Genetic factors contribute to the disease, but "lifestyle factors" — diet and excess body fat — are also part of the cause. But Deen's not going to get into that.

Deen — who is known for her love of butter, has taught Americans how to fry a cheesecake and make a lasagna sandwich — was cagey when it came to answering questions about her own diet. Al asked, more than once, "Have you changed how you eat?" Deen conceded that she had made "small" changes, but also seemed miffed as she asserted, "I have always eaten in moderation." She also said the dishes she cooks on TV are "for entertainment." Forgive us for assuming they were for eating. We had it all wrong. Silly viewers, don't actually CONSUME any of this stuff you're being taught to make!

Deen is only announcing her condition to the public now, as she has teamed up with pharmaceutical drug maker Novo Nordisk. They've got a new website, Diabetes In A New Light, where one can find "diabetes-friendly" recipes. Paula Deen's old lasagna recipe called for 1 1/2 pounds of (fairly fatty) ground chuck; her new "light" recipe (which, as of right now, is the only recipe on her new website) requires 1/2 pound extra-lean ground beef. Diabetics can certainly eat meat, but the National Institute of health advises to only eat small amounts. Is this recipe better than the old one? Yes. Is it still not-so-good for you? Debatable; depends on the diabetic. But maybe keep that piece of lasagna on the tiny side, just to be safe.


Let's be clear: No one deserves to have a disease. That's not the point here. But Paula Deen is someone who's orchestrated the announcement of her illness in tandem with a drug company, someone who's launching a website dedicated, ostensibly, to helping people be healthier. In a way, she's branding and marketing her diabetes. In doing so, her failure to talk about her own diet — and the unhealthy recipes she's peddled for years — is downright irresponsible.

(All of the artery-clogging foods in the image at top, by the way, are from her kitchen, and she's not going to address what we can see with our own two eyes? Bullshit.)

Al asked, "What do you say to people who say she delayed this because this would damage her reputation — her whole industry that she's built, basically, on this kind of cooking?" Deen responded, "People are not going to quit eating." Right, but if you are diagnosed as a diabetic, you might want to stop eating doughnut burgers. As the New York Times notes, during Monday's broadcast of Paula's Home Cooking, "Ms. Deen was discussing what kind of breadsticks might pair well with bacon cheese fries."

Diabetes Myths [ADA]
Chef Has Diabetes, and Some Say ‘I Told You So' [NY Times]

Photo illustration by Jim Cooke

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Okay, this will probably end up feeling like a snake eating it's own tail, but here I go.

What frustrates me most about this situation is that it's continuing and amplifying the deeply dysfunctional relationship Americans have with food, while simultaneously helping people buy into the lie that they don't need to address the fucked-up-ness of it all because somebody created a pill to help manage the condition.

The default mode of the American medical industry is to over-prescribe, over-medicate, and generally endorse the idea that a pill is somehow preferable to making a lifestyle change. I'm not sure if it's a holdover from the previous two generations who got used to "miracle" cures for everyday afflictions, or if there's something bigger going on. But it's a terrible and dangerous drift away from the idea that a doctor should exhaust ALL natural or noninvasive cures before advocating long-term medication or surgery. Doctors are encouraged, and paid handsomely, for reaching for the prescription pad instead of recommending a less harsh treatment regimen.

Let's be honest, Paula Deen doesn't promote food. Like all good TV empire figureheads, she promotes a lifestyle. And by using the cop-out of "moderation" instead of addressing the potential consequences of that lifestyle head-on, she gives false comfort to her fans. If you can consume an insanely unhealthy diet yet still be okay because you take a pill, what incentive do people have to even question that unhealthy diet?