This article was featured by BlogHer Food upon original publication.
So Paula Deen has type II diabetes. Big deal. So do 34.2 million other Americans last time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention checked. And contrary to what mainstream media outlets are writing, it’s not all about the butter.
It is one thing for the Huffington Post to publish blanket statements about diabetes being a “major consequence of heavy eating.” But the Detroit Free Press? Shame on the editor for allowing a reference that insinuates Deen’s diabetes is solely a result of “high-fat, deep-fried food”.
While perhaps innocent, uninformed quips on a celebrity scandal, from a science and journalism perspective the comments border on irresponsible. To be clear, refined, fatty foods are not the key to maximum health and longevity. But fried food and butter are simply ingredients at the tip of the diabetes iceberg.
Fat is not bad for us. Being fat is bad for us. Yes, a person can reach obesity status by consuming too much saturated fat. And this can certainly lead to diabetes and hypertension. But the diabetes epidemic is so much more complex than just “too much fried chicken, y’all.”
The Brief on Type II Diabetes
According to the Centers for Disease Control, type II diabetes is a product of obesity, a lack of exercise, consuming excessive refined carbohydrates, age, and the right dose of genetic predisposition. Singling out one factor for a chronic disease ignores the best practices of responsible journalism.
Instead of concentrating on one person in the public eye, the moment provides a textbook opportunity to convey all the risks of type II diabetes. And helpful information and resources on how to prevent the all-too-common chronic disease.
Bring in Winnie the Pooh
So if we're going to blame Deen, we may as well take Winnie the Pooh down with her. After all, he's not exactly svelte. And always has his hands in the honey pot. Also, when was the last time we saw him take a thirty-minute bounce around The Hundred Acre Wood with Tigger?
If we are out to make accusations, we can't blame Paula Deen. She's too young. She came into this world after the convenience and fast-food mentalities had already set in. Don't forget, the first White Castle opened back in 1921. Over a century ago, my friends. The mass production and marketing of refined carbohydrates soon followed.
So yes, this is a ridiculous comparison. It is meant to be. No one particular person (or cartoon) in America is to blame for the diabetes epidemic. Even indirectly. Likewise, I don't believe any singular fast-food chain is at fault. We are all responsible for our own choices. But it is worth stating that those choices are a product of the education and information we receive from widely-available sources.
Curing the Diabetes Epidemic
This convenient, nutrient-void eating style - exacerbated by growing portion sizes - has been a long time in the making. And it most certainly is not a result of Paula's Home Cooking. Trust me, we Southerners were making gooey butter cake long before Paula Deen became famous (I have the 40-year-old family recipe to prove it).
So it's time to stop blaming corporations, celebrities, and each other for collectively becoming one of the unhealthiest nations in the world. We need to step up to the home plate, work together, and take responsibility for our own eating. And demand more from our schools, community leaders, and politicians.
Eliminating food deserts and increasing nutrition and food education for children and families are two obvious places to start. And leaving Paula Deen and poor Winnie the Pooh alone. Enjoy a little butter on your broccoli, y'all, from my honey pot to yours.
I am a private chef and culinary consultant with a basic formal education in nutrition and food safety. I am not a certified nutritionist or dietitian, and none of the information here is intended as medical advice. If you are overweight, hypertensive, or suffering from chronic disease and seeking to improve your health, consult your doctor first. If your doctor doesn't recommend changing your diet, you might want to find a new doctor.
Paula Deen Announcement on Today Show
Huffington Post on Paula Deen and 'turducken'
Risk Factors for Type II Diabetes from the Mayo Clinic
The Obesity Code by Jason Fung
Forbes: Fast Food Has Become Increasingly Unhealthy Since The 1980s
I don't blame Paula Deen for anything other than being an opportunist. She might have taken this as a chance to at least acknowledge that her food is meant to be enjoyed verrry occasionally and that using 3 sticks of butter in a cake recipe certainly didn't help her avoid diabetes. But instead she partnered with a pharmaceutical company for a very lucrative endorsement. As Anthony Bourdain tweeted, "Thinking of getting into the leg breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later."
Agreed. I don't blame Paula, but I wish she would have taken a different stance. You can eat fantastically while still eating healthfully. She could have used her situation to positively impact her fans instead of pushing pharmaceuticals.
More thoughts on my stance below...
Not to mention, she hid her diabetes for three years, only to emerge as a shill for the drug industry. Under any other scenario, I would feel bad for her and keep my mouth shut. But she is a public figure, and a well-compensated one at that. And you are spot on: an opportunist.
Love this so much. The stigmatization of type 2 diabetes as a "fat" disease is unfortunate, and disheartening to those diagnosed. Seeing a celebrity diagnosed with diabetes and yelling "That fatty is costing me money!" is unproductive, disrespectful, mean-spirited, and highlights the attitude that obesity is a result of "moral corruption". If we are going to call obesity an epidemic, then treat it like one- there is something wrong with the system, not the people. Everyone didn't wake up one day and decide to sit around and eat whatever they wanted to, all at the same time. Using shame and "tough love" has not worked historically, so let's stop kidding ourselves and take the system seriously.
Paula Deen is not responsible for the health status of the nation, but with so many people overweight and suffering from Type 2 diabetes and other lifestyle-related problems, I'm glad she's going to use this opportunity to take a stand. I just wish she had decided to partner with Fruits & Veggies More Matters, or another healthy eating agency rather than a drug company. We don't need to eat fat-free, light, sugar-free, salt-free food and take drugs for diabetes. Rather, we just need to eat more fruits & vegetables and a little less of everything else. There's still room for rich Southern food, if you eat it in moderation and stay active.
I totally agree with the vegetable notion. Whole, truly natural foods are the motto in our house (for the most part).
"We don't need to eat fat-free, light, sugar-free, salt-free foods, and take drugs"- bravo, totally agree! Guilting people into buying the 100 cal snack packs is not the answer. Good, wholesome, home cooked meals with occasional indulgences will do just fine.
And didn't the south give us collards and mustard greens? Thank you, south.
It seems to have become the American way to blame someone else rather than take responsibility for our own actions. (It's definitely easier).
That's why I always blame my husband when the house is messy...
Let's blame the minorities and economically disadvantaged, those darn morally corrupt groups are dragging up the statistics for obesity and diabetes. If that's what you mean by taking individual responsibility, that is.
I don't mean anything of the sort - I'm sorry that's what you took from this. I think blame of any kind directed at anyone specific is ridiculous (hence, the whole Winne the Pooh comparison). I believe as a society we need to change our eating culture, including in schools, at home and in restaurants.
I love me some Paula Deen and for all the critics out there who love to bash her - pick another celebrity to pick on. While her cooking may not be the healthiest in the world compared to a bright, crisp salad - she preaches HOME cooking. Last time I checked, pretty much any meal cooked at home is still going to be healthier than the "bought" variety. All that being said, I'm sure it had something to do with her diagnosis but not the only thing.. she's a pretty heavy smoker and I get the feeling she doesn't run a 5K every week.
Thanks for standing up for one of my favorite gals and driving home the point that many Americans need to be remember - be responsible for your OWN actions and stop pointing the finger in blame. Unless you're pointing it to yourself.
Thanks for reading and commenting! And yes, home cooking is the best. We just need to get it back in schools!