A letter to Paula Deen

Paula, Paula, Paula.

By now, you’re probably tired of all the fuss – the criticism of your calorie- and cholesterol-drenched cuisine, your recent revelation that you have type 2 diabetes, your new contract with Novo Nordisk to pitch one of their diabetes drugs.

I’m not going to nag or get all judgmental on you. Others have already done so – for instance, chef and Food Channel host Anthony Bourdain who sarcastically tweeted this week, “Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later.” Or an editorial in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, which criticized you for promoting “a lifestyle elevating feeling good for a moment above everything else” and concluded, “It’s time for her to become a force for good instead of a force for fat.”

But I have to ask, Paula: What the heck were you thinking?

I’m a teensy bit embarrassed to admit that although I recognize your name and know you’re a celebrity chef/restaurateur who has written books and appeared on TV, I didn’t know much about your culinary style other than that it’s “Southern.” After the story broke this week, I looked up some of your recipes online and I was… well, taken aback, to say the least.

Deep-fried apple turnovers. Macaroni and cheese loaded with butter, sour cream, milk and cheddar cheese. A pie made with Twinkies. A “chocolate cheese fudge” containing half a pound of Velveeta, half a pound of butter and two pounds of confectioner’s sugar. Velveeta doesn’t belong in fudge, Paula. It isn’t even a food.

In some ways, though, I can’t help admiring you. From the start of your career, you aimed unerringly at America’s pudgy underbelly – our collective instinct toward food laden with sugar, butter and grease. It was a smart business decision. You made millions catering to the most unbridled aspects of the human appetite and America was only too happy to help. In this, your fans have been complicit.

But is this what you really want to be remembered for? Your love of food appears to be genuine but is this the example you wanted to set? Now the deep-fried chickens have come home to roost in the form of type 2 diabetes and what I see is… denial. Sorry to be harsh, Paula, but it’s true. You even kept your diagnosis quiet for three years, meanwhile continuing to serve up butter, sugar and calories like there was no tomorrow.

Lending your name and celebrity reputation to help a pharmaceutical company hawk its diabetes drug doesn’t even the score. At best, your fans are probably wondering if you’re being used. At worst, your critics are accusing you of being an opportunist.

The whole lifestyle change thing is hard. I get that. What I don’t get is how someone with your brains, your talent, your business acumen, your charm, ever ended up here in the first place. It didn’t have to come to this, Paula, and it’s not too late to make amends. Put down the butter and walk away. I’m surviving just fine without Twinkie pie and fried cheesecake, and so can you.

Photo: Associated Press

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