Regardless of the culprit, we’ve lost touch with the fundamentals of how to eat. And that has affected many more facets of our society than personal choice. Unlike many public health advocates, I don’t believe in government policies that limit this freedom of choice. But that doesn’t mean unhealthy attitudes and ideas about food shouldn’t be stigmatized or questioned. When you’re operating outside the realm of government mandates or assigning individuals full blame, stigmas and norms are the best tool you’ve got for influencing behavior.
Now any time you endorse stigmas around diet, people leap on you as demonizing or insulting the overweight, so let me clarify that that’s not what I mean. I’m not suggesting anyone increase judgement or ire towards individuals (whose habits you can’t know based on their weight or appearance alone), but toward the whole system of unhealthy ideas and beliefs that make up the American mindset toward food. And as a public spokesperson for this mindset, Paula Deen is an appropriate target for its critics.
I don’t think we should “let Paula Deen eat fried butter in peace.” And I don’t think we should overlook the fact that she’s only opened up about her diabetes after partnering with a diabetes drug company. I don’t think we should let her get away with pushing the narrative that it costs too much to eat healthfully (it doesn’t). Or with others framing Deen’s caricature of southern cooking as some sort of proud tradition, the likes of which ‘northern snobs’ can’t understand.
Deen says she cooks for those without the privilege to “pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine.” I’m sorry, but there’s a wide range of food options between $58 prime rib and deep fried lasagna. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems more condescending to suggest that Krispy Kreme burgers are an unflappable symbol of the average American diet than to suggest that all Americans, regardless of what region they live in, should try to unlearn unhealthy habits and eat better.