Sorry, but I just couldn't resist that headline.
Paula Deen's cooking show is not one I usually watch on Food Network. The few times I've seen parts of it, the food she was making was so nauseating I simply had to turn it off. As soon as the Crisco or the Cool Whip starts coming out, I'm done. It isn't that I'm only willing to use hand-rolled, hand-shaped macaroni and three types of reduced-fat artisanal cheese and truffle oil to make MY macaroni and cheese, but chemical-laden frankenfood just doesn't do it for me. That isn't to say that I won't eat anything that doesn't come from an organic garden in a pastoral landscape tended by golden-tressed earth mothers singing Big Yellow Taxi
, but I do recognize the difficulties of being someone who has to be in a large building for eight-to-ten hours a day combined with a commute that can be an hour or more, and that unless you want to have dinner at eight PM and then go to bed an hour later, your weekday dinners are going to often consist of heating up something from Trader Joe's.
And then there's Paula Deen, who has made a fortune giving the people what they want -- dishes laden with butter and chocolate and sugar and shortening -- the kinds of food that perhaps were acceptable when everyone did hard physical labor on the farm all day but that are deadly in today's sedentary desk-job world. It's not surprising that people in the TV chef world such as Anthony Bourdain would get their high dudgeon on
about the kind of crap Deen whips up on her cooking show. But let's not claim that haute cuisine
chefs completely eschew the artery-clogging stuff either, not after the episode of Chopped
I saw the other night in which the centerpiece of an appetizer was marrow bones.
Remember the episode of The Simpsons
where Homer is drooling over a commercial that advertises something like "Two full pounds of ground beef, soaked in rich creamery butter. Topped with bacon, ham, cheese, and a fried egg"? Well, meet the "Lady's Brunch Burger."
The legitimate beef (so to speak) with Paula Deen is about the frankenfood more than even the fat content. Let's face it, folks -- anyone watching television who thinks that a cheeseburger topped with bacon and a fried egg and served on a glazed doughnut is a great idea has bigger problems than Paula Deen.
What's surprising is the schadenfreude
coming from so-called progressives. At a time when discrimination on the basis of health risks is increasing, that a side of the political spectrum that's often (Dan Savage
notwithstanding) associated with fighting discrimination based solely on girth. How can you attack the right for saying that women who get raped deserve it because they dressed provocatively and then say that Paula Deen deserves to be trashed because she ate a high-fat diet and developed Type 2 diabetes?
It seems to be at least somewhat about the diabetes drug endorsement deal
Deen knew she had diabetes for three years and still pushed doughnut burgers on her fans. Then she waited to tell people until she had an endorsement deal with a drug company. It’s hard to see that choice as anything but shabby. Deen could have spent three years talking about “moderation” without making any money off a pharmaceutical company. Like Bill Clinton, who slimmed down on a mostly vegan regimen, she had the potential as a Southerner and a food lover to teach her fans new strategies for eating and living — and she could have done it without shilling for the pharmaceutical industry. She looks like a calculated opportunist today — when, she could have, for those millions of fellow Americans with diabetes, been simply sweet.
First of all, how often do you hear Bill Clinton talk about veganism? Almost never. Bill Clinton doesn't travel the country talking about veganism, and nowhere in the mission statement of the Clinton Global Initiative does it talk about diabetes. It's something he did, and good for him. (It also helps that he can no doubt afford a spectacular vegan chef to prepare delicious vegan meals for him.) But the biggest problem with the paragraph above is its implication that there is no gray area at all between the Lady's Brunch Burger and a vegan diet, when in fact there's a great deal of gray area. To imply otherwise is enough to make your average overweight person just decide "The hell with it."
Amanda Marcotte, who blogs for a living and so doesn't have to sit in an office for eight-to-ten hours a day and then sit in traffic for an hour, joins the pile-on
, though she makes some valid points about managing diseases after we have them rather than preventing them in the first place.
The problem is that there are no hard-and-fast rules about prevention. I come from two fat parents. Both have lost a bit of weight recently, but are still overweight by any objective standard. Both have health problems, one related to lifestyle (smoking), the other unrelated to lifestyle. Mom is 84 and Dad is 86. Neither one has diabetes, despite being overweight for as long as I can remember. I have a friend whose husband has high cholesterol, despite a diet of lean meats, fish, grains, and vegetables, and a two-mile run every morning. Sometimes smokers don't get lung cancer and nonsmokers do. Sometimes thin people get Type 2 diabetes and fat people don't. Christopher Hitchens smoked cigarettes and drank like a fish and died of esophageal cancer. Winston Churchill started each day with a cigar and a snifter of brandy and lived to be ninety. Julia Child was the queen of butter and was similarly bashed
(NYT link) -- and lived to be ninety-two.
Look, I recognize that people who eat crap, and those, like Paula Deen, who glorify crap food make it more difficult for those of us who try to eat right to convince people that we don't sit around eating doughnuts and Chicken McNuggets (or Lady's Brunch Burgers, for that matter); that we eat egg white vegetable omelets with just a sprinkling of cheese (non-artisanal, alas) for breakfast and vegetable-laden soups with salad for lunch and a small bowl of chili for dinner -- and we're still fat. Tonight I am going to dinner with some colleagues who are in town from overseas. They love, love, love Cheesecake Factory. I hate, hate, hate chain restaurants like this because it's so difficult to find something to eat that isn't fried or covered with cheese. Yesterday I spent a full fifteen minutes perusing the menu in advance to try and find something I can eat that isn't huge, fried, covered with cheese, or drowning in dressing. This is what life is like every single fucking day for Your Humble Blogger, who is a 4'10" size sixteen anyway. And it doesn't involve doughnuts, fast food, or these days even chocolate, as I've mostly lost my taste for sweet stuff. I suspect I'm not the only one.
Mary Elizabeth Williams, who wrote the Salon article excerpted above, is battling Stage IV melanoma
that started on her scalp
. This happened despite wearing sunscreen all these years because who puts sunscreen on her scalp? So I suppose we should cut her a cetain amount of slack and not say she brought it on herself by spending too much time in the sun without a hat. Because even though lifestyle factors might bring on a serious disease, blaming sick people for their own plight after they're sick seems a little bit like blaming rape victims for being assaulted.
None of us is perfect, and there's no one in this country who hasn't deluded him/herself at one point or another that s/he is immortal and will never get sick and never die. Those of us who have seen parents live to what is old age by any measure are especially susceptible to this delusion. But you can do everything right and still get cancer. You can do everything right and get wiped out on the highway tomorrow. You can do everything wrong and outlive everyone you know. The universe is random like that. Of course it's better to eat a moderate portion of chicken sauteed with fresh organic vegetables over a bit of brown rice than it is to eat a Big Mac. I don't think even the most ardent red-stater would deny that.
Now, I'm not a Paula Deen fan, so I can't say for sure. But I can't imagine that she has been out there advocating eating two pounds of fried macaroni and cheese topped with butter at every meal, every day, for your entire life. If I'm wrong about that, let me know. But I suspect that Paula Deen is not that much different from most of us -- she never believed it would happen to her. So-called progressives who would never advocate discriminating against the 22-year-old who's paraplegic because he drank a six-pack and then drove his car into a tree because his disability is "lifestyle-related" have no business being selective about who they'll bash for having a life-threatening illness. Even if it did come from Velveeta and doughnuts.
Labels: double standards, Fast Food Nation, pop culture, weight