Saturday, February 4, 2012

Paula Deen's Reckoning

For a psychotherapist, Dr. Cheryl Pappas seems to be rather willfully missing the point and indeed, the very reason for the backlash against Ms Deen in the wake of revealing her diabetes diagnosis. While I cannot speak for others, I'm happy to give her my opinion.

 I don't see anyone “celebrating” Deen's diagnosis. I do see people criticizing her for promoting a severely unhealthy way of eating while proudly proclaiming “I'm your cook, not your doctor,” and now she is cashing in on it. There is no rejoicing that I've seen, only the realization that the inevitable has come to pass. Call it karma. Since Deen's ascension at Food Network, she has made millions turning herself into a caricature. She has endorsed everything from cookware (logical enough, I suppose) to ham, frozen pies, bed linens and patio furniture. Oh, and don't forget the new line of plus-size clothing.

I've long been a critic of Food Network specifically because they present much of the work of their talent as “healthy” and “figure friendly” when it is anything but. When asked to provide nutritional information on their recipes, Food Network demurs, retreating behind a claim of providing only entertainment. Through this criticism, however, I've cut Deen some slack because unlike others in the Food Network stable, she never pretended that her food was good for anyone. I couldn't bear her over-the-top dirty old lady persona (Foghorn Leghorn is a more realistic Southern representative), but I suppose that is a matter of personal preference.

Of course, Deen's medical situation is her personal business and she has no obligation whatsoever to share it with others. The fact that she chose to do so now, I believe, has much more to do with explaining away her endorsement deal and protecting her brand – and her millions – than any altruistic motivation. Viewers are left with a sense that Deen would sell her own grandbaby if she could make enough doing it.

Paula Deen
I've not seen a single post where people blamed Deen for making them diabetic, or claimed that she force-fed them anything. The simple fact of the matter is that Deen and Food Network have overplayed their hand and their audience and now, Kardashian-like, must deal with the fallout. Paula needs to take her lumps like a big girl and stop whining that a few million people less are now her fans. Television and the public marketplace is no place for the thin-skinned.

To Ms. Deen, I would suggest that rather than attempting to re-define her brand by her son Bobby re-working her oeuvre into something people could actually eat, Deen should take her empire and millions and retire. The chasm between what you have been and what you need to become to survive is simply too great. The damage is done and in my opinion, it is not reparable.

While I am no sort of medical or social authority, I do have some experience with these issues. My younger son, now 18, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 7. It has been a Sisyphean struggle to get him to manage his diabetes in even a marginally satisfactory way, and I have multiple ER visits under my belt to prove it. Additionally, I spent most of my life being morbidly obese and even though I managed to lose large amounts of weight several times, it always came back. Until my gastric bypass surgery in 2005. At my top weight I was larger and looked even more like Baby Huey than does Deen in the photo that accompanies her confession.

Oh, and Dr. Pappas, speaking of “practicing the art of mean,” you'll notice that my headline does not call anyone “stupid.”

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