Southern cooking celeb Paula Deen gets called out for promoting spectacularly unhealthy eating --- years after her own diabetes diagnosis.
By Leslie Bilderback 04/01/2012
Behold, the latest example of a good girl gone bad — Paula Deen, Food Network star and recently outed diabetic. Diagnosed with type II diabetes several years ago, Deen kept quiet and continued to grace our TV screens with down-home preparations of things like The Lady's Brunch Burger (a decidedly unladylike concoction of hamburger patty, bacon and fried eggs sandwiched between two glazed donuts).
I doubt any of Deen's fans believed she was an expert on diet and lifestyle, but there is an entire segment of society that thinks this nice lady with the cutesy Southern drawl was telling them it's okay, y’all, to top off a garlic bread--lasagna sandwich with deep-fried cheesecake. Being a pig is funny, especially when you can laugh at yourself (which Deen does with reckless abandon). She's so fat and happy, it's contagious. And that contagion is spreading like hot caramel on a stick of butter, giving her fans the go-ahead to indulge hilariously.
The problem, America, is that we have indulged our way into the ER.
Deen's critics are calling her out for contributing to the fat-is-fine mentality. Culinary agitator and dueling celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain told TV Guide Magazine that Deen was "the worst, most dangerous person to America… and her food sucks.” The Li’l Fat Girl (her term, not mine) retorted in the New York Post that she plays to a demographic composed of people unable to spend "$58 for prime rib and $650 for a bottle of wine.” (Although apparently she thinks “real America” can afford the $85 bottle of Chardonnay she offers at her restaurant.) "My friends and I cook for real Americans who worry about feeding their families and paying their bills on time." (Presumably she's referring to medical bills.)
Deen further defends herself by touting her charity work, which includes "feeding over 10 million people by providing food banks with meat products." The "meat products" in question are provided by Smithfield, the company highlighted in the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. for selling factory-farmed pork products and hiring low-wage undocumented workers, working them hard for a short period, then alerting immigration agents, who round them up, no questions asked. Is there not another company out there willing to donate, Ms. Deen? Pork is not inherently bad (although there are good reasons half the world refuses to eat it). But company ethics aside, Smithfield products are loaded with preservatives and cholesterol, and a 2-ounce serving has enough sodium to choke Rhett Butler's horse (690 milligrams, nearly half the recommended daily adult limit).
Deen has to know that “real America” is in trouble, and that by knowingly cooking, eating and promoting artery-cloggers on TV in the name of "entertainment," she joins a long list of enablers — the processed food industry, corporate chain restaurants, fast food, school lunch programs, hotel chains, the U.S. military and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture — who are all under the impression that intake of fat-, sodium- and sugar-laden foods can be easily regulated by the self-aware, and that America is free to choose whether to indulge or not.
They all need to digest the next bit of disturbing food news: Twenty-eight separate studies were published in 2011 citing evidence of addictive properties in processed foods containing fats, corn syrup, preservatives and artificial colors, sweeteners and flavors. Frozen prepared foods (even the "healthy" ones), canned soups, cereals, prepared snacks, candy and beverages are more widely consumed than fresh foods and clinically match the same consumption patterns and health problems of known addictive substances. Unless you live in a biosphere, these foods comprise the majority of the American diet.
This addiction doesn't manifest itself in the adorable "I bet you can't eat just one" way, but rather, in a terrifying "you've altered my brain's dopamine receptors" way. A Yale study shows pleasure receptors react to high fat and sugar the same way they react to morphine and heroin. There is even brain imaging that shows striking similarity in the brain function of overeaters and drug addicts. (Note to self: Stop using the term "junk food junkie.”)
What's worse, the habits of overeaters fall eerily in line with the diagnostic criteria for substance abuse outlined in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders:
• Substance is taken in larger amounts and for longer periods than intended. (Think Ben, Jerry and the last time you watched The Notebook.)
• Persistent desire or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit. (Which explains the U.S. weight-loss market's current worth, estimated at $60.9 billion.)
• Important social, occupational or recreational activities given up or reduced. (Just for fun, count the number of "mobility chairs" you see in a week — the use of which, incidentally, increases the risk of diabetes.)
• Use continues despite knowledge of adverse consequences. (Ahem. That's Deen and her minions.)
In response to her diabetes, Deen has joined with Danish pharmaceutical firm Novo Nordisk to promote Victoza (a non-insulin injectable that controls blood sugar) and offered up lightened versions of her popular recipes. But substituting fat-free sweetened condensed milk in your fudge recipe is not the answer. You need to stop creating in people the desire to eat fudge as an entrée. If you could help your 10 million “real Americans” to do that, Ms. Deen, we'd probably leave you alone.
Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and author of The Everything Family Nutrition Book (Adams Media). A South Pasadena resident, she teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.