What is Paula Deen’s Responsibility?

Paula Deenphoto:  Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of buzz today about Paula Deen announcing that she has type 2 diabetes.  And there’s been no shortage of criticism that her decadent, high-fat cooking has caught up with her — and is doing lots of harm to the American public. 

I just turned on the TV in my hotel room and there she was.  I stopped to watch her cook with her son Bobby and it was rather shocking.  In the first few minutes I heard everything from “dangerously delicious” and “guilty pleasure” to “the devil is in this kitchen today! and  “I should be arrested!”

Well, maybe so. 

OK, perhaps  not arrested.  But I do think it’s time she changes her ways.  It’s just not funny anymore.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a passionate food lover and believe there’s a way for all foods to fit.  And I think Paula has a lot of charm, she’s an enthusiatic cook with a tremendous following.  People LOVE her.  And I think that type of dedicated following brings with it a certain responsibility.

I know Paula isn’t a nutritionist and she doesn’t claim to be.  (Although I did have a few complaints about her children’s cookbook that I previously wrote about on Nutrition Unplugged:  Paula Deen Serves Up Food Advice for Kids.)

To give her some credit, I did hear her say three times on her show that she doesn’t eat this way every day.  That’s great.  But why does she choose to cook this way on her show?  

To me, this is just a tragic missed opportunity.  We need to inspire people to cook more often.  I truly believe that’s one of the best ways we can take control of our health.  But this type of cooking is not the answer.

I wish Paula all  the best.  I just hope she can use her power now in different ways.

Am I wrong?  Doesn’t Paula have some responsibility to make some changes?  What do you think?

paula deen burger

Paula Deen Burger by mdclarke on flickr.

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  • Claire Regan

    Great post, Janet. I don’t think you’re wrong, in fact I think you nailed it — constant indulgence without balance can be a recipe for health disaster. Too bad the balance-variety-moderation message isn’t so sexy. It would be great if Paula could sieze this opportunity to promote a more balanced approach, and even better if one of our RD colleagues who’s also a media star could help.

  • Jen Walsh

    Great post! She has an opportunity (and responsibilty) to turn this around and I hope she does. Would be great if she enlisted help to makeover her top recipes.

  • Meg

    Interestingly, her son Bobby Deen has a new show, Not My Momma’s Meals, on the cooking channel that proposes to lighten up Paula Deen’s recipes. Haven’t seen the show or tested any of the recipes, so can’t vouch for how good they are. But it’s a step in the right direction, I think.

  • Ellen

    I understand your concerns that Paula Deen should promote healthier recipes. However, the responsibility to eat healthier ultimately rests on the individual. There are other celebrity chefs in addition to Paula Deen that do not focus on health issues. That’s why it is important for individuals to do their research and educate themselves on healthy foods. And in many of Paula’s recipes, you can substitute healthier ingredients, and the recipes will still taste as great. I know this because I have tried it.

  • Joe

    The medium of television is always better when things are exagerated and over the top. Games shows, sports, the news and even cooking shows are for ratings to gain ad sales. So I am not surprised to hear that Ms Deen probably eats differently off camera than she does on. However if on camera is a reflection of how she usually eats it doesn’t necessarily mean that is the root cause of her diabetes. The American Diabetes Association lists several other factors including age and family history that may contribute to the disease.

  • Tonya

    I enjoyed your post, Janet. I agree with Claire that it would be wonderful to see Paula taking a natural approach to diabetes management rather than embrace a pharmaceutical company. It would be a lot of fun to see Paula Deen on the Healthy Gourmet, lol. Hopefully she will promote prevention with a tasty, healthy style of cooking.

  • MNDD

    Obviously, those of us who live in ‘middle America” (i.e., outside NY and SF) are ignorant fools who eat at McDonald’s 24/7 and wouldn’t know a broccoli floret if it hit us upside the head. We’re fat, stupid hicks who live in trailer parks. We need someone to educate us about nutrtition and moderation. Excuse me? I think most of us have enough brain cells to know that this food meant to be consumed in MODERATION. Also, I think there are a great many of us who are inspired to cook because of Paula. Let’s be honest, if she were making beef cheeks, or foie gras wrapped in gold leaves, people would laud her as some kind of culinary genius. Let’s not pretend that just because you dress up certain foods and charge an obscene amount for them, that they are healthy.

  • Sheree Vodicka RD

    After reading in this morning’s paper that she’s known about this for three years and just announced this week her deal with a large pharma company to promote their diabetes drug, I’ve lost my appetite.

  • What a great post! I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 15 years ago and was horrified to see that Paula Deen is now a spokeperson for a diabetes medication. from Novo Nordisk. What were they thinking? Ms Deen, while warm and charming, is the poster child for unhealthy fat and suagr laden foods. And now while she back tracks a bit and says that these foods should not be eaten very day, she has kept silent for three years after her diagnosis and continued to offer these heart attack on a plate recipes in her books and on her shows. I would like to point out that no medication on earth can stop the devestating complications of diabetes unless you lose weight AND change eating habits. Paula Deen is doing both herself and her audience a great disservice with her current approach.

  • glwfood

    A foodie, recipe and product developer, I am sad that an overweight woman who has
    lived a life with fat, butter, bacon and desserts has been changed by money. Where is Paula’s integrity and honesty?
    I have lived 45 years with Type 1 Diabetes. I was told at the age of 12 that I would live 10 years.
    I was rebellious as a teenager but have spent me life eating healthy and helping consumers
    eat healthy exercise frequently to live longer. I also have developed foods in the
    food industry with my personal goal of development of honest healthy food with real ingredients and amazing flavor.

  • Great post – I wrote about this today on my blog. I think she does have a responsibility – she’s in the public eye, she has an audience, and it’s an opportunity for education.

  • @ Deborah Chase….I’m confused about your statement about complications and medications. Medication is about keeping blood sugars in a desirable range which absolutely does have an impact on complications related to diabetes. High blood sugars are very hard on both the eyes and the kidneys.

    I think your statement is a little misleading. Certainly diet and healthy weight are important, but high blood sugars over time is the precipitating factor in many diabetes related complications….they just don’t happen due to a diet that is less than ideal or to someone who is obese, but might only have very slightly elevated blood sugars.

  • The only thing that concerns me is that she has been quoted saying that while she’s going to create some diabetic friendly recipes, she will not be making any changes to the way she cooks. Its disappointing that she could have really taken the bull by the horns, owned the fact that her diet most likely contributed to this disease and really inspire people to get smarter about what they eat. I’d much rather seen her endorsing a “real food” or close to raw diet then endorse a drug!

  • Paula has a chance for a reincarnation if she wants it. Julia Child was the queen of butter in her time. However, she slowly changed her tone as she got older. She accepted that too much butter wasn’t good for you but that sometimes butter was a necessary ingredient in a dish to give it just the right flavor. Then there is Graham Kerr, the “Galloping Gourmet” who changed his way of cooking when his wife was diagnosed with heart disease. People still warmed to his cooking presenation style. And while not considered good for you at the time, his always having a glass of red wine to sip from while he cooked has been shown to be healthy. So Paula Deen can change and still be loved by her audience. It may not be the fat and sugar that people love about her recipes but her zeal for cooking that lhey love about her. Besides which, as spokesperson for a drug company that makes insulin, I would think they would like their spokesperson to set a good example. Here’s hoping she does.

  • Amen, sister. I think that Paula has the potential to do some big things here with this announcement. Her charm and personality over the years can bring people to cook in her unhealthy ways, so how about she take her drug endorsment as an opportunity to begin to educate her huge fan base as a prime example for healthy change. It is halfway sickening to think that she has just now announced this after mum’s the word for 3 years. Thats three years of horribly ‘sinful’ foods going out of her kitchen and on to the tables of our overweight and obese population in America. While, yes, I definitly agree it is a single individual’s responsibility to make smart and healthy choices, but does that leave media icons, such as Paula Deen, to forget about their drastic impact on our society? I’m with Roberta.. here’s hoping she sets a GREAT example.

  • I personally was disgusted by it-I think Paula is riding the train of what business in general has realized- that there is vast amounts of money to be made in providing hyper palatable food that overrides people’s natural mechanisms to compensate in any natural way; and then that there is equal large sums of money to be made in helping “solve” people’s problems through drug intervention (which is riddled with its own problems). Why share her diabetes publicly now? Because she has a financial interest in doing so. Michael Pollan has written about this extensively with regards to food companies and drug companies-Paula’s an astute business woman who has figured out how to profit yet on another tier from her unhealthy fare-to have her cake and eat it too, literally.

  • I wrote a very similar article about this whole debacle —

    Many of the same viewpoints as yours!

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