Why Paula Deen Isn’t To Blame For America’s Health Problems

I will be the first to admit that Mrs. Deen’s diabetic admission came as no real shock to yours truly.  My knee jerk reaction was more along the lines of ‘well, sure’.  I was hardly scandalized. The media on the other hand, went into rabies-ridden dog mode in about 6.2 seconds.  While I understand some people’s discomfort with the situation, I think we all need to take ten deep breaths.  Feel better? Me neither.

As many of you may already know, Paula Deen went on the Today Show last Tuesday and revealed she was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes three years ago. She is now a paid spokeswoman for Novo Nordisk Pharmaceutical Company. She’s collaborating with Novo on a new health initiative website, DiabetesInANewLight.Com, where people can go to learn more about the disease and how to manage it.

My question is, what are we most upset about? Is it that she sat on this information for 3 years without coming forward? Perhaps it’s because she has partnered with a pharmaceutical company and now is profiting off the disease. Or is it that she continued to make her classic southern cooking over that 3-year period on her Food Network show while she knew she had diabetes?

While people may be up in arms over her decision to delay this announcement, I have to say that it is everyone’s right to choose whether or not to disclose personal health information.  Be upset about that three-year secret all you want, but she didn’t have to come forward and talk to the Today Show weatherman about her health.  I don’t care if you think it was her duty to or not.  She is a cook, not a health professional. Please don’t confuse the two. Yes, she’s a public figure. But she is also a human with what I believe to be personal rights.

As for the endorsement deal, it didn’t rub me the right way either.  Does she have the right to profit off her health condition? Probably not. At the same time, business is business.  Just because you shouldn’t do something doesn’t mean you won’t.  Our healthcare system has created an economic climate where pharmaceutical companies hold a lot of power and it’s up to the medical community to supply the general public with the best options available. Your friends over at the FDA relaxed restrictions on advertising prescription drugs back in 1997, so I suppose we could find some way to blame them too for Paula’s actions. Not to mention the insurance companies are breathing down everyone’s neck looking for a piece of the pie. I get that you hate it, so do I.  But Paula Deen is no dummy and if there’s a capitalistic opportunity to be had, then why not? It’s terrible, but there are children going to bed hungry every night, so let’s focus on more important issues. Celebrity product endorsements are like forgetting to take your seasickness pills: once you realize what’s happening it’s too late. Besides there has been worse.  Remember Ozzy Osbourne and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter? Or Gorbachev and Louis Vuitton? And for the life of me I cannot understand why Alec Balwin is doing those Capital One commercials. I know that a credit card advertisement and a pharmaceutical company are two different things, but you understand what I am saying. Product endorsements, be them strange, practical or wrong, aren’t going anywhere. (sorry about this monster paragraph)

I prefer to look at this whole drug company thing in a different light. This doesn’t make me saintly, it makes me retrospective. If we approach it from a monetary context, then yes, it’s a bit crass. Deen has committed a portion of her lucrative deal to go to the American Diabetes Association. Great. Good for her.  I don’t care if it’s a public relations move.  From a future practitioner’s point of view, I am all for the better management of diabetes. Period. I don’t love the idea of a celebrity endorsement for diabetes, but there are many people out there who choose to leave their diabetes uncontrolled. If left unregulated, diabetes can affect nearly every organ in the body including eyes, kidney, nerves, heart, gums and teeth.  If her face on a website or box motivates even one person to action in their own health, then who am I to say it’s wrong?

Many have criticized Deen for continuing to make/promote her southern-style cooking for the last three years while she knew herself to have diabetes. While getting ready for work on Thursday I had the Today Show on because I love me some Curry, both in my news and on my food. Lauer did a segment on this very topic, interviewing Star Jones, Donny Deutsch, and Dr. Nancy Snyderman. Lauer started with the doctor and the first sentence out of her mouth was, and I quote, “Paula Dean blew it…her behavior was egregious. ” Tell me how you really feel.  Anthony Bourdain, star of No Reservations and another P. Deen lover, blasted this woman in the news last week. Bourdain believes her to be the “most dangerous person to America” who is “proud of the fact that her food is f—ing bad for you.” Oof, if only this man saw that puppy mill she was running back in 2002 (joke).

Look, I am not going to deny her cooking is awful for you.  I don’t like to speak for others, but I have yet to meet a person who believes her cooking is healthful.  Yes, her food is artery clogging, but you know what? The Food Network is paying her big bucks to syndicate her recipes. I think what really irks me about people painting this woman in Satan’s clothes is that it all boils down to free will.  You don’t have to make her sour cream macaroni and cheese.  Many of the isles in the grocery store or gas station pose a much greater threat to America’s health than a woman in the TV box adding butter to her salad dressing.

She’s been making high-fat, high-sugar recipes on the Food Network for years now.  She’s showed us how to deep fry Oreos, add Cool Whip to any form of dessert and discovered an un-inventive way to baste everything in butter.  Good for her. We’re the one’s watching it. People have been reacting to her ‘behavior’ last week as though she’s the one getting the gremlins wet at night.  She’s to blame for the obesity epidemic in this country. False.  She’s not and the fact that people are giving her that much credit befuddles me.  While we all love to point the guilty finger at some external reason for the obesity crisis in America (McDonald’s, high fructose corn syrup, chocolate milk, hormones), more times than not it boils down to free will. You don’t have to make Paula Deen’s recipes.  You don’t even have to watch her show. I said it before and I’ll say it again, she’s a cook not a health professional.

I think the health community and Deen have a major opportunity to address the disease; its risk factors and management options.  Having a public figure in front of a cause has the potential to bring about awareness.  Whether you want to accept it or not, Deen is the face of America. Her diet appears to be rich in sugar, fat and salt.  The foods she makes are over-indulgent and she now has a preventable chronic disease. Sad but true.  Should we accept this style of living and rely on medications to fix all our health problems? No. But we also can’t bring about change in a one-week period.

It takes courage to stand up to any disease.  A life with Type II Diabetes can be managed. Although I would like to see the rates of this disease decline, I don’t think the incidence of diabetes would be greatly influenced by the presence of Paula Deen on the Food Network.

Lastly, in the Today show segment I mentioned earlier from Thursday, Lauer, Jones, Deutsch and Snyderman went on to discuss whether or not Chris Christie’s weight will affect his political career. The segment closed with Lauer previewing the upcoming spot on ways to dress 10 pounds thinner.  He went to commercial with the closing comment, “It seems like a weight obsessed day”. To that, I say welcome to 2012 in America.

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