Food Network Star Paula Deen Has Diabetes, But Did Not Cause America's Obesity Crisis

At age 64, chef Paula Deen announced that she has Type 2 diabetes on yesterday’s episode of NBC’s Today show. The Georgia native has known for three years, but waited to tell America until she “had something to bring to the table.” Something other than Fried Mac and Cheese, that is. Deen is a celebrity that, like many others in the entertainment business, practices behaviors that we ought to avoid. In our capitalist society, it is counterproductive to place blame on profitable practices whose only threat is to influence people who know better.

The Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain took to Twitter to voice his criticisms for Paula’s partnership with Novo Nordisk, the producer of diabetes drug Victoza. People across the country are joining him in his reproach, but I wonder whether Paula’s ex-fans have a right to do so. And if it isn’t her viewers feeling betrayed, then do her rivals have a point — Did Paula’s recipes make her viewers fat?

Normally, I would be the first person to condemn the media for promoting unhealthy lifestyles by feeding unreasonable beauty expectations or extraneous consumption, but when it comes to Paula Deen, I have trouble being mad at her. Many of us have trouble being mad at her.

Maybe she reminds us of our own grandmother, who has an insatiable appetite for feeding her grandchildren. In her eyes, we are food-deprived whenever we’re not with her. Or maybe it is because of her naughty smile and the sparkle in her eye whenever she adds an extra serving of butter to the dough of the Crunch Top Apple Pie she is rolling in our living rooms.

For all that butter, though, it seems like the place it holds in our hearts is designated for entertainment. In Paula’s top 100 recipes list, not one is a desert.

Either way, the reason why we love her is irrelevant, but what matters is that we do. Shows on television are determined by ratings – which is just a misleading word for the number of viewers. Paula’s ratings don’t suffer when she adds an extra dollop of cream cheese. For some reason, Americans like her shows, and others on the network, which encourage us to stay hungry and eat fatty “comfort” foods.

In light of the backlash aimed at Deen and the numerous claims of hypocrisy, I question why Americans are so offended that Paula held her illness in secret for the time that she did. As someone who regularly watches her show but has not once indulged in the type of food that Paula makes, I wonder, do her rivals claim they were unaware of the dangers that come with eating high levels of sugar, salt, and fat?

In November, 64% of Paula’s online viewers were reported as having kids, according to demographics provided by Quantcast, a company that measures web audiences. I hold the belief that most Americans with children are well briefed at this point with the risks of obesity and diabetes, yet continue to tune in for Paula’s broadcast from Savannah.

In the midst of an obesity epidemic, why is it that so many Americans who knowingly overindulge are so eager to point the finger at someone else? With shows like the Jersey Shore, Toddlers and Tiaras, Hoarders, and another Food Network favorite, Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives growing in popularity, it’s clear that Americans have an appetite for unhealthy television. It’s time we start acknowledging our morbid curiosity, and admit that what we watch is not what we preach for our families or ourselves.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Andrea Zaharieva

I graduated from Hunter College, CUNY in 2011 with a double concentration in Political Science and Media Studies. In my junior year, I worked at the NYC Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs as a social media intern. In my senior year I took on writing and editing for both of Hunter's undergraduate publications. I am open-minded regarding almost everything, and I have spent a lot of time enjoying and sometimes pursuing my other interests as career options. These include video production, photography, EPL soccer, painting, and cooking.

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