On this morning’s Today show, Paula Deen revealed that she was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes three years ago. She defended herself against accusations that she gave herself (and other Americans) diabetes—and so did my fellow Blisstree writer, Deborah—by downplaying the link between diet and diabetes and emphasizing that she only eats her fattening Southern recipes occasionally. But until now, the Queen of Southern Cuisine has hardly promoted moderation; she’s defended her cooking and recipes by calling critics classist and avoiding the topic of health altogether. I’m sorry, but I don’t find Paula Deen’s sudden change of heart endearing; if she really wants to help her fellow Americans with diabetes, she needs to accept the blame for her diabetes, and possibly yours.
When Al Roker asked her about the cause of her diabetes, she deftly glossed over the link between a fat- and sugar-laden diet and Type 2 Diabetes:
Certainly Al, that is part of the puzzle. But there’s many other things that can lead to diabetes. Certainly genetics, certainly your lifestyle, certainly what you eat, certainly stress, and last but not least is age. There’s a lot of us baby boomers out there and there’s a good chance that that will be one of the issues you have to face.
And when Roker pushed her even further to address her own dietary choices, she said that she’s “always encouraged moderation.” Which is an absolute cop-out, if you ask me. When Anthony Bourdain criticized her for contributing to America’s health problems last year, she responded by making the conversation about class, not health:
You know, not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine. My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills . . . It wasn’t that long ago that I was struggling to feed my family, too.
Where was the big push to get people using her recipes in moderation then?
Al Roker directly asked whether she’s changed the way she eats since her diagnosis, and again, she harped on moderation:
I’ve always eaten in moderation. You know people see me on TV two and three times a day, and they always see me cooking these wonderfully Southern, fattening dishes. That’s only 30 days out of 365, and it’s for entertainment.
She said she’s never eaten like that every day. But in an interview with Parade, she admitted that she’s made some big dietary changes since discovering she has diabetes:
The first thing I did was give up sweet tea because I drank so much. I’d start drinking at lunchtime and wouldn’t set it down until I went to bed. When you calculate how much empty calories and how much sugar I was consuming, it was staggering. So I haven’t had a glass of sweet tea in three years.
That’s certainly a positive change, but it doesn’t seem to me like she’s always been a master of moderation. (And, if diet really didn’t have anything to do with diabetes, I don’t see why she and millions of other diabetics would be so worried about what they eat.)
It’s got to be brutal getting up in front of America and discussing your body, health and weight. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I told someone I had a disease and their response was “it’s your own fault because you’re fat.” But no one’s forcing her to announce her diabetes or discuss her diet and weight on TV. She’s chosen to make a lot of money by teaching people how to cook food that causes obesity, high blood pressure, and, at least indirectly, diabetes. Now, she’s choosing to make a lot of money off of exactly those consequences.
At the end of her interview on Today, she threw in a confusing anecdote:
Like I told Oprah: ‘Honey, I’m your cook, not your doctor.’ You have to be responsible for yourself.
That’s a completely irresponsible attitude to take, especially as a paid spokesperson for diabetes drugs. She owes it to her own health and others’ to be more responsible than that. Instead of pushing pills as the solution to diabetes, we all need to get honest about the fact that food has everything to do with our health, starting with Paula Deen.