Is Paula Deen deserving of criticism?

For those of you who haven’t heard, it came out yesterday that popular celebrity deep-frier, Paula Deen, who is known for serving up delicious, albeit unhealthy, southern fare on the Food Network, has been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Apparently, she was diagnosed three years ago, but chose not to come out until now. Deen says that she didn’t make her condition known earlier, not because she thought doing so would be bad for business, but because she didn’t have good advice to share with the public. Now, though, she does. You see, she just signed a lucrative endorsement deal with the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. This news, for reasons that you might imagine, pissed me off, and I posted something about it on Facebook. Here’s what I wrote at the time.

The interesting thing about the news isn’t that Paula Deen was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes three years ago and kept it quiet, but that she just signed an endorsement deal with Novo Nordisk. The campaign, which is soon to launch, is apparently going to stress the fact that you don’t need to change your diet in the wake of a Diabets diagnosis. All you need is some moderation, and a buttery handful of prescription pharmaceuticals.

[I actually just added the “buttery handful” line, at the suggestion of my friend Chris, but, otherwise, that’s what I posted.]

Anyway, here’s the part that interests me. After the comment was up for a few minutes on Facebook, a friend left a series of negative comments, accusing me, among other things, of moralizing. Here’s a bit of our exchange.

So, here’s the question for tonight… Was I out of like for criticizing Deen?

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  1. j
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink


  2. Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    So she has no obligation to share with her viewers that consuming the food she cooks makes one sick? Is it, as my friend suggests, just understood?

  3. j
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    Sorry. I read it again. The last line asked a different question from the post title. Yes she is deserving of criticism, no your criticisms are not out of line. However, the criticisms are a little, I don’t know the word, “meh?” Or maybe a little naive? She’s a television personality. Of course she doesn’t have a soul. She’s a spokesperson for Smithfield Foods, one of the most disgusting corporations on the planet. When confronted with Smithfield’s environmental and labor practices she just shrugged her shoulders. She would do anything to make a buck.

    I am reminded of a Bill Hicks bit on marketing:
    Perhaps Paula Deen is taking his advice, however slowly.

  4. Benn
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    I side with Bourdain’s hyperbole: She’s “the worst, most dangerous person to America.”

    Deen has been an unhealthy and dangerous lifestyle advocate.

  5. Lynne
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Well I know that I wouldn’t want to be served by a bartender who told me all of the potential dangers of drinking alcohol every time I ordered a drink. Nor would I get angry or insist that he share his health status with me if he happened to get sick from chronic alcohol use.

    Seriously. We all make choices in our lives and every choice we make comes with a price. Often, when we choose to experience pleasure or even convenience, we take risks. We take a risk when we ride in a car, for example. Most of us don’t get down on others who make this choice because we make it too. But you are risking your life and your health every single time you get into a car just because it is more convenient than banning cars and walking. We do like to be critical of people like Paula Deen because we don’t choose to eat like she does (or how she cooks on her show at any rate). It is no different than when people on the right are critical of people who have sex differently than they consider moral. They don’t choose those pleasures so they are critical of those who do.

    I don’t know Paula Deen or her motivations. I don’t even know if she eats the food she cooks. I know a lot of people who like to cook stuff like that but don’t eat it. I do know that I don’t always make the healthiest food choices. And I know why I choose to occasionally eat those kinds of foods. It is because they taste delicious! And eating them gives me pleasure. If cooking those kinds of foods gave me pleasure, I would do that too.

    What is the difference between that and say choosing to have promiscuous premarital sex? Both involve risks. Both are a hell of a lot of fun. It may be no surprise when the glutton gets diabetes or the whore gets herpes or whatever but why the anger towards them? Why the expectation that they repent for their moral failings (i.e. choosing pleasure instead of healthy)? Why the suggestion that it is somehow wrong for them to treat their illness?

    Is it the endorsement deal? Why would that piss you off more than other celebrity endorsements? Do you honestly think she plotted encouraging an unhealthy diet just to give a lot of people diabetes so she could then make a buck off them? She has diabetes. She is a celebrity. It doesn’t seem much different than when Bob Dole did all those erectile dysfunction ads. He wasn’t a Republican just to make guys lose their boners and then sell them pills. That is just how it went down.

  6. Kerri
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    No, you are right on and so is Anthony Bourdain:!/NoReservations/status/159282541805842432

  7. Ale Roka
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    I’ll wait to weigh in until I see how you advise your “friends” to combat the illness you so vapidly enculturate.

  8. Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Lynne’s response was amazing, thought-provoking & changed my mind. Oh well, my frustration trying to help folks with fitness and moderation was making me myopic. She made fantastic points.

  9. j
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t care how many sticks of butter Paula Deen jams down her throat or how many pills she pops to treat the consequences of her awful diet. But Paula Deen doesn’t just have a bad diet, she SELLS and MARKETS it. Every appearance she makes she is advertising the benefits of a destructive lifestyle. Now she is selling her audience to a pharmaceutical company with products that fix the side effects of the lifestyle she promoted in the first place.

    From the Facebook post:
    “I don’t see much of a difference between people blaming Deen for diabetes and the people who used to blame dying AIDS victims.”
    The difference is that Deen has made tons of money for many years promoting the very thing that has given her the disease. Deen is a victim only of her own marketing. Unless the dying AIDS victim made a career out of promoting unsafe sex (then cashed in again on hocking antiretrovirals), there is a huge difference between Deen and anyone suffering from AIDS. In fact, there’s a huge difference between Deen and any other butter glutton with diabetes.

  10. Posted January 18, 2012 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Eating butter does not lead to diabetes. This is common knowledge in the rest of the world. Sadly, here in the US, we advise people with diabetes to eat more of what actually does make people fat and diabetic – carbohydrates and sugars.

  11. Burt Reynolds
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Anthony Bourdain is a pompous piece of shit. Paula Deen throws a pound of butter in a pan before she starts cooking. It’s obvious it is not healthy food. It’s southern cooking at its finest. Anyone that feels they were misled by her and her food, shouldn’t be preparing their own meals. And on that note, probably shouldn’t watch televesion unattended either. Jesus….

  12. Mr. X
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    The thing isn’t that she serves burgers on Kripsy Kreme doughnuts (she does). People can eat whatever the fuck the want. And, yes, it’s common sense. Fat people know that they’re fat, and that they’re putting themselves at risk for innumerable health care problems. What’s awful about this is that she claims to have remained silent about her own illness for three years, stating that she would have come out earlier, if she’d only had good information to give people. Now that she has a pharmaceutical backer, though, we’re expected to believe that things have suddenly become clear to her. It’s bullshit. Yes, other people do it. That doesn’t make it right.

  13. kjc
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    yeah…the social responsibilities of the tv cook are lost on me. it’s well known to the point of criticism that the food she makes is fattening. what that means about her lifestyle i have no idea. it isn’t that she isn’t damnable, i suppose, especially with the pharma connection. i just don’t feel like it. i guess i don’t think she’s truly endangering people. or if she is, that’s our bigger problem.

  14. Lynne
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Kerri, you don’t think Bourdain, a smoker, is being just a little bit hypocritical? Here is a doozy of a quote by him:

    “I don’t want to encourage anyone to quit smoking. In my experience, it really does make you cool” – Anthony Bourdain

    Thank you Julia.

    J. I see. So you would be equally critical of a gay man who owned a sex shop, got AIDS, and then got paid by a drug company to promote their anti viral HIV drugs? What about people who run ski shops and really like skiing and then have a ski accident? Or people who promote bike commuting and then injure themselves riding their bike? Where do you draw the line with this? Is it ever ok for someone to earn a living promoting something dangerous? And if they do, is it ever ok for them to earn money promoting the treatment for the consequences?

  15. Eel
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I don’t have any numbers to back this up at the moment, but I bet that obesity is more of a public health problem for modern America than smoking, in terms of rising health care costs, productivity, and any number of other metrics.

    On the plus side, I think it’s great that the obese have a champion in America. She’s like their MLK.

  16. 'Ff'lo
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Lynne’s points appreciated here, too. And Mark, whether you’re (uncharacteristically tiresomely) hopping on a predictable pile of tut-tutting or not, it’s a notable oversimplification (and perhaps even specious reasoning) that it is solely or even predominantly her diet that caused her diabetes.

  17. j
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink


    You’re being a a little disingenuous. Sex, bicycling, and skiing can all be healthy activities as can cooking and eating delicious food. If the sex shop owner made his money promoting unsafe sex, yes, I would be equally critical, and I suspect you would be too. When the Catholic church undermines support for condom use we’re all up in arms, but when a television personality promotes the idea that all good food has to come with heart disease and diabetes we’re not allowed to pass any ethical judgement?

    Anthony Bourdain is an asshole who happens to be right.

  18. kjc
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    anthony bourdain makes his money being an asshole. that’s his investment in this issue.

    “but when a television personality promotes the idea that all good food has to come with heart disease and diabetes we’re not allowed to pass any ethical judgement.”

    yes to the last half of your statement. you’re allowed to pass ethical judgment. but only after you are hyperbolic to the point of utter falsehood in the first half.

  19. kjc
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Let me add that there’s a show on Food Network I’ve never seen by a woman named Ellie Krieger. Her show promotes healthy recipes. I’d like to see the numbers on how many lives she’s saved. If her show hasn’t caught on and had the success that Paula Deen’s has had, I doubt it’s because no one has noticed her integrity. It’s because no one cares. It’s not that Paula Deen likes excess. *Americans* love excess of all kinds. And so do people btw, at least in the Western world. And god knows most people sitting around watching Paula aren’t up and around making her food. I know I’m lying on the couch being lazy when i see her cooking cornbread

    The answer is more Ellie Kriegers? No. The issue is that this is one of those hot-button moments where people feel free to judge (right? they ask) and thus excited about it. Because people love to judge. It’s as basic to us as excess. So the moments where people feel most justified are usually the most rhetorical. It looks like indignation but it’s just release. It’s actually gratifying to people to judge. Thank Paula Deen for this seemingly unambivalent moment of pleasure.

  20. Lynne
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    @J There are people who would say that ALL sex that doesn’t occur between married heterosexual couples is unsafe sex. So ok, you would be critical of someone who promoted what YOU consider to be immoral (aka unsafe) sex but would you be critical of someone who promoted any kind of sex if they got an STD? Even the sort of condom wearing safe sex you consider moral?

    And listen to yourself. You’re pretty much giving a pass to the hypothetical ski shop owner and the hypothetical bike commuting promoter because skiing and riding bikes are activities you consider to be more moral than eating fatty sugary foods. And that is ok for you to have that opinion. Everyone is entitled to have their own morality. But seriously, one thing I have noticed about people who tend to lean left politically is that they pay a lot of lip service to being tolerant and to not moralizing but when push comes to shove, they will moralize about food in almost the exact same ways that people on the right moralize about sex. And when you confront them with this, they’ll almost always state that it is ok because eating unhealthy foods is *really* immoral. You are doing it right now by claiming that there is an inherent difference between choosing the risks associated with sex, skiing, bike riding and choosing the risks associated with eating the kinds of foods Paula Deen cooks. Basically you’re saying that I am being disingenuous for choosing examples that fit YOUR morality (i.e. those are moral activities because they have some health benefits). But really, is a guy like Sonny Bono more moral than Paula Deen? Should we get on his case posthumously for killing himself while engaged in a risky activity. What a jerk, right?

    At any rate, I guess I am just as bad as everyone else because instead of keeping my mouth shut, I get all up in arms when people get publicly critical about other people’s moral choices. But I do think the world would be a better place if people could practice their morality without trying to make others conform to it. If you don’t like the food Deen cooks on her show, DON’T EAT IT. If you think it is immoral to have sex with someone of the same gender, DON’T HAVE SEX WITH SOMEONE OF THE SAME GENDER. Stop worrying about controlling other people’s behavior so much. It seems as simple as that.

  21. Lynne
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    @Eel Always nice to see the weight bigots join in every time anything like this is discussed.

  22. anonymous
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I spent my lunch hour watching the Wendy Williams show. Wendy, a large lady herself, called Deen a “lair.” This isn’t about picking on fat people. This is about a woman who would have kept her mouth shut about having diabetes, if not for the fact that she got offered a shit load of money to endorse a drug. As Wendy said on her show, this is something that you’d expect from the Kardashians, not a professional that you hold in high esteem. I understand how you can find some of these comments hurtful, Lynne, but I don’t think, for the most part, this is about anti-fat bias in American culture. This is about someone not being truthful with her audience. And, if you think that Mark only does that with fat people, you might want to read what he wrote about John Edwards when he was caught lying.

  23. kjc
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    how did you decide Wendy Williams is a large lady? and is that why her opinion is supposedly of relevance here?

  24. 'Ff'lo
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    kjc writes, and is so freakin’ right on: The issue is that this is one of those hot-button moments where people feel free to judge (right? they ask) and thus excited about it. Because people love to judge. It’s as basic to us as excess. So the moments where people feel most justified are usually the most rhetorical. It looks like indignation but it’s just release. It’s actually gratifying to people to judge. Thank Paula Deen for this seemingly unambivalent moment of pleasure.

    it’s a little transgressive to bring the metaconversation into the conversation, though. naughty kjc. ;)

  25. anonymous
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink


    Williams commented on her weight several times in the piece. I guess it was stuck in my mind. I also mentioned it to illustrate that it’s not just skinny people going after those who are heavy. Sorry if you found it a distraction.

  26. Fallon Dong
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    I think that before they pass the condom law in LA, Paula Deen should get together with some of her very fattest HIV positive friends and her long-schlonged diabetes-having southern friends and make a movie completely unprotected.
    You know guys if people didn’t die of something we would have to take care of their invalid asses forever. Let them have a little fun, give them a pill or two and let them go.
    Anyway, obese people are cute.

  27. monica
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    whew! Mark you sure have a love and good tolerance for controversy and stirring it up!

    I guess when there’s a well known national health epidemic concern related to skiing or biking I’d buy that argument of Lynne’s. But until then I’m glad Mark points these things out and gets me thinking about hypocrisy. Although only briefly, but certainly long enough to put down my bagel with cream cheese and a sugary jam……

    It’s hard to take on these things as people are largely simply acting out of ignorance, or just participating in the massive denial system where ‘the market’ and the force of money/profit, make it so hugely rewarding (financially) to go with the program, and so, unrewarding to do the healthier things. Ah, but I hear hostess Twinkies just went bankrupt…. an icon for health food falls. ; ) ~ now what will i nibble with my chocolate milk?

  28. Ypsiosaurus Wrecks
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Paula Deen has only herself to blame for her diabetes. It seems pathetic that she would only come out about her diagnosis only after inking a deal with Big Pharma.

    We all need to be educated about the dangers of a high fat, high processed food diet. I think the real tragedy is that she is going the (lazy) medication route.

    There is ample evidence that changing to a plant based diet can significantly reduce and possibly eliminate your need for medication. She was offered a chance to join a 21 Day Vegan Kickstart via the PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) so far no word from Ms. Buttersworth…

  29. Fallon Dong
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    Do you really think that if she ate nothing but deep fat fried poatoes in all their rich plantiness that she would be anything but a huge fat ass diabetic. Or nothing but corn syrup?
    The crazy bitch cooked hamburgers slapped between two chocolate donuts with chocolate drops in the middle and dredged the whole thing in confectioner’s sugar.
    You reckon the only thing bad about that little meal was the beef?
    It won’t matter. The pills only save your ass a little while.
    I’m with Hillary on this one. You people are waaaay behind. Try some research.

  30. Ypsiosaurus Wrecks
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    @Fallon – actually you and Hillry need to do your research. Eating deep fried potatoes would have a very negative impact on ones health. Butter most certainly is unhealthy. Aside from the animal fat it contains you need to consider the antibiotics, hormones and steroids injected into the cows before their milk is further concentrated into butter.

    Carbs (fruits/veg) are fine as long as they are not slathered in fats i.e butter/oil. Be it corn, potato, rice ect. Corn syrup is a very highly processed food – which, as I mentioned, is not healthy.

    Perhaps you and Hillary are “waaaay behind”. Try reading The China Study or some books by Dr. Neal Barnard/Dr. John McDougal.

  31. Posted January 21, 2012 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    I am familiar with your propaganda as I was a vegetarian at one time. It really took a toll on my health. Potatoes, corn, and rice are all very high in starches. I eat potatoes sometimes, but both potatoes and rice cause my husband to have an insulin reaction. We stopped buying corn two years ago to reduce our exposure to GMOs. Most vitamins are fat soluble and are not absorbed without it. Butter from pastured cows is very nutritious, high in vitamins A and D, CLA, anti-oxidants and iodine. We own a cow-share and buy live animals from farmers we trust, so antibiotics and hormones are not a concern.

  32. Fallon Dong
    Posted January 21, 2012 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    Well there you have it.
    Try some of the noise about GI index coming out of Australia lately. Just because it is a plant does not mean it is edible.
    Remember we were talking specifically about diabetes with Paula Deen.
    Again. Way behind.

  33. Fallon Dong
    Posted January 21, 2012 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    I looked at the MacDougal diet. It looks like what I used to eat when I was sick a lot.
    Probably still a step up from what the average American eats, but it didn’t do much for me.
    Each to his own.
    Leave Britney/Paula alone.

  34. Fallon Dong
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    Wait. Ypsi Wrecks. You might be right. I am way behind. Even the China Study is eight years old now. It came and went and I barely noticed.

  35. Lynne
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Slate magazine had an interesting piece this week about the sexism and classism that seems to be behind a lot of the criticism of Deen.

  36. Victor Zulu
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Paula Deen behaves like a fraudulent fat fuck; plain and simple. She promotes an unhealthy dietary behavior on her television show, and then when and if some audience members acquire some disease that was facilitated by her unhealthy diet, then provides them with a drug from a drug company that endorses Deen. This sounds like a racket, as in racketeering.

  37. Cedrick Sparrow
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    I’d argue that she’s deserving of death. Every night I pray that she’ll be chosen for Dancing with the Stars and suffer a cardiac episode in front of America. Does that make me a bad person?

  38. Meta
    Posted June 27, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I think the answer from all of us would now be a resounding “YES”.

    From Think Progress about Deen’s appearance o the Today Show.

    “There’s someone evil out there that saw what i had worked for and they wanted it,” Deen told Lauer towards the end of their conversation. That use of the word “evil” is striking in it intensity and suggestion of some sort of larger conspiracy to get Deen. And it’s an attempt to change the conversation, and to mark Deen’s accusers as jealous of her success, or not deserving of either compensation if she fostered a discriminatory workplace, or back pay if the wage theft allegations against her are found to be true. Deen has all the interest in the world in flipping the script, whether she’s describing comforting sobbing friends or alleging a dark plan to bring her down. But however effective tactics like those may have been in the past, it may be too late for Deen to change the story.

    Read more:

  39. maryd
    Posted June 27, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Why instead of this inane topic, we talk about Wendy Davis… her taking on Texas…now that’s a topic…and no one need be offended by her diet or body fat percentage

  40. Knox
    Posted June 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Some would argue that entrenched racism is a problem worthy of discussion.

  41. Brainless
    Posted June 27, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    “this is something that you’d expect from the Kardashians, not a professional that you hold in high esteem.”

    HIGH ESTEEM?!!! Bwaaahhahahahahaaaa….

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] minutes to process what she’d told me, and figuring out that she must have somehow confused the portly the white-haired butter pusher with Phyllis Diller, who had just passed away at the age of 95, I launched into a long… and, […]

  2. By Lessons learned in Savannah on July 23, 2013 at 6:22 am

    […] thought to what, if anything, I’d do if I were to find myself within shouting distance of Paula Deen while visiting Savannah. I thought it unlikely, but, as her son lives a mile or so from my parents, […]

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