I have only marginally kept up with the Paula Deen debacle. What I have gleaned from perusing various internet postings is that folks feel like she a) needs to be more transparent about the health consequences of the food she cooks (and fell short of this standard in a major way by omitting what some might consider a material fact, her type-2 diabetes status), and b) further failed her viewing audience by signing on as a spokesperson for a company that manufactures and distributes diabetes medication. First things first: if HIPAA prohibits health care providers from disclosing patient information to third parties (signaling the value we place on our right to privacy in matters concerning our health), why on earth would we expect someone — anyone — to disclose such a personal and intimate detail of their life under any circumstance, really? Err…unless, of course, you are William Brawner, the former Howard University student who recklessly engaged in unprotected sex with young women without revealing his HIV-positive status. But, I digress…
My thoughts about Paula Deen:
1) Soul food (or southern/comfort food) and the marketplace: Paula Deen has capitalized on a market that is all too eager to consume, and in some ways fetishize, the dumbed down recipes of people like my grandmothers (and ancestors more generally, who have historically cooked in the homes of White families as slaves and domestics, while being forced to creatively figure out how to make every leftover and undesirable part of the pig not only edible but actually tasty for their own families — see, e.g., The Help). That said, I simply cannot hate on her for that. Heck, I wish my grandmothers could have had a cooking show peddling their authentic soul food recipes to a viewing public constantly in search of the next culinary “thing”. I do realize that this is wishful thinking, though — part of the allure of chefs like Paula Deen and Emeril is the whole “Wow, they can cook like that, too?” effect. The broader point: to blame Paula Deen for sharing the food she loves with a completely detached, yet presumptively informed viewing public, without disclosing her diabetic status is in a sick, twisted and perhaps illogical way, like blaming my maternal grandmother for being a diabetic (based in large measure on the food she ate), yet continuing to eat and share the food that led to her unfortunate circumstance with her family and loved ones.
This brings me to my next point…
2) Race, culture and food: Some people just do not have the cultural capital to speak on this issue in the way I have, unfortunately, seen it framed. And even if they
think they do have the currency, they speak about it in a surprisingly culturally incompetent way. We all know that sodium, cholesterol and fat is bad for you. We also all know that, for better or worse, they are defining ingredients of a good soul food meal (I mean, I guess smoked turkey will do instead of ham hocks *shrugs*). Perhaps my grandmother didn’t understand the extent to which such food was bad for her health until it was too late, but I do. Yet, I continue to consume this food — in moderation, of course. Still, I try to encourage my family members to eat healthier (or, at the very least, diversify their nutritional intake) all the while understanding that no matter how enlightened and educated I am, how many places I’ve traveled, or experiences I have encountered, this food is a part of my culture and is a part of who I am. Point being: before there was a Paula Deen, and long after she is dead and gone, there will be somebody, somewhere who eats deep fried macaroni and cheese. If one thinks this is problematic, the issue needs to be reframed in a culturally competent way; but Paula Deen is neither the source nor the solution.
In the mean time, if we want to indict every celebrity chef who pushes potentially unhealthy foods for engaging in deceptive and unconscionable practices, let’s also bring the Cake Boss, Giada of Everyday Italian, and even my homies the Neelys into the lineup. Right, exactly.
My final point…
3) Corporate and personal responsibility: I get that, even in the uber-capitalistic country in which we live, corporations are and should be held accountable for how they interact with their consumers. Let us not forget, however, that we live in a nation where one feels entitled to sue McDonald’s for their obesity (notwithstanding any normative arguments about the factors that inform access to food options). Until ten year olds start heading to their local supermarket and buying up all of the lard and bacon fat…actually, scratch that: until Paula Deen goes on a guerilla campaign and starts kidnapping unsuspecting Americans and forcing IVs filled with butter into their veins, I say live and let live. It is reasonable to expect a viewer of Paula Deen’s show to know that sodium and cholesterol lead to certain health outcomes. Moral of the story: we need to stop shifting blame and start holding ourselves personally accountable for matters relating to our health.
Now, to the fun part…
For all of the Paula Deen
haters critics, I have prepared the ultimate in hypocritical meals: lettuce wraps with shrimp salad served with oven baked carrot fries and garnished with a deviled egg. And (*drum roll, please*)…PEACH COBBLER HA! Who says I can’t invoke my inner fat girl Paula Deen while simultaneously trying to maintain my health? It’s all about moderation and trade offs. 🙂
Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Peach Cobbler with Grand Marnier
The Spread: Before and After
Thanks for helping me demolish this, Haben and Malaika! See ya same time, same place next week. 🙂