Instead, Deen has found a very different way to profit from her disease. She came right out of the gate endorsing a diabetes drug made by Novo Nordisk, along with her two sons, neither of whom have the disease. Score for big Pharma and the Deen family, tough luck for the rest of us. With more and more American's faced with diet-related health issues--including the terrible lack of access to fresh food in so many urban communities--I find it particularly devastating to see such a beloved public figure leave her power on the proverbial plate. As a chef, she could be preaching the power of food to impact health and quality of life. She could transform the way that Americans relate to their pantries. She could help to turn the kitchen into a place where we think first of nourishing ourselves and our families, even with the occasional dinner of fritters and pudding. Instead, she says to us, head to your nearest pharmacy, and leave a little bit of your money in my pocket while you're at it.
In the recent Times article covering Paula's revelation, Anthony Bourdain is said to have called her the "'worst, most dangerous person' on the Food Network," because of the unhealthy nature of her food. (Many would counter that even the fanciest French chefs rely on a whole lotta butter, but I would say that there's also an element of moderation that goes along with that type of cooking, and it is absent in Paula's world.) His comment, while harsh, reflects a reality that I had previously ignored: while I may view Paula's show as a culinary amusement ride, there are many, many people who identify deeply with both the woman and the way she cooks, and there is nothing amusing about failing to consider the impact that your celebrity may be having on the health of thousands upon thousands of people.
Is Paula Deen personally responsible for our epidemics of obesity and diabetes? Clearly, she is not. Is she personally responsible for turning these issues around? Again, certainly not. But there is no denying that with a shift in her message she could use her considerable power to help the very people who are responsible for her remarkable success. Shame on her if she doesn't.