Speaking of Paula Deen… Feminist Win of the Week

29 Jan

I was kind of appalled by Josh Ozersky’s piece in this week’s Time titled “Grease Under Fire: Paula Deen parlays just deserts [sic] into a sweet deal.” And not just by the uncharacteristic typo in the title. (Just deserts?) A few choice quotes (emphasis mine):

It’s probably safe to say that few of her viewers were surprised when down-home-cooking doyenne Paula Deen announced on Jan. 17 that she has Type 2 diabetes.”

The woman just didn’t care; she was going to deep-fry some Twinkies, and that was the end of it. The result, just as our mothers told us, was predictable. ‘Paula Deen was going to have some kind of health problem,’ says New York City chef Franklin Becker… ‘It might not have been diabetes, but it would have been something. If you cook that way, if you eat that way, you’re going to get issues.‘”

“The truth is that Deen has some real questions to answer, and she hasn’t done a good job so far. It’s one thing to be diagnosed with diabetes after you’ve built a career promoting bacon-wrapped mac and cheese and other I-dare-you dishes that contribute to obesity, a risk factor for developing the disease. But Al Roker, speaking for tortured dieters everywhere, asked her on the Today show why she took so long to tell people the news…”

“Paula Deen, after cooking all the wrong things so well and for so long, doesn’t seem to feel any guilt at all.”

Notice any themes? I should note that Ozersky doesn’t paint Deen entirely as a demon, and he admits a grudging respect for what he describes as Deen’s “freewheeling indifference to health concerns.” The issue of Time in which this article appeared also included a quote from chef Anthony Bourdain in the Briefing section: “‘When your signature dish is hamburger in between a doughnut and you’ve been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you’ve got Type 2 diabetes… It’s in bad taste.'”

Credit: Time

Ozersky’s article – and the implications of Bourdain’s quote – really bother me. The language is damning and weight-shaming, and it conveys a poor understanding of how Type 2 diabetes works. The tone is unattractively gleeful – how funny is it that this woman got diabetes? – and the utter lack of compassion makes me cringe. The self-righteous grousing about Deen’s unwillingness to immediately disclose her diabetes diagnosis is also inexplicable to me. Does Bourdain have a blog somewhere in which he lists all of his health problems? Couldn’t find it, but I guess it must be out there somewhere. There’s also an implicit assumption that Deen eats exactly as she cooks on TV. Do you honestly think this woman has time to make homemade fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits every night? Do you know how long that stuff takes to make? I joked about eating peanut butter pie at Paula’s house in my last post, but I am fully aware that she’s a celebrity with a TV show, guest judging gigs, book deals, a magazine, speaking engagements, and a business empire. I doubt she spends a ton of time at home, much less making gravy from scratch when off air.

I could go on, but I think Susan over at Persephone Mag does a much better job than I could of addressing the problems inherent to the current media dialogue around Paula Deen’s illness. Check out her excellent takedown here: http://persephonemagazine.com/2012/01/takedown-paula-deen-abetes/

If that doesn’t constitute a feminist win of the week, I don’t know what does.

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