Why the Paula Deen Flap Won’t Go Away

A couple of weeks ago, I, along with a cadre of journalists, bloggers, commentators and just about everybody else, weighed in on the issue of Paula Deen’s delayed announcement of her diabetes. So I’m not going to rehash the basic issue now. What I am going to attempt is to rebut the blindly faithful among her fans who don’t seem to grasp the obvious reasons behind the outrage.

Let’s start with one point I’ve seen frequently expressed by her defenders; “Everybody’s picking on poor Paula because she has diabetes.” No. Nobody’s picking on Paula because she has diabetes. That she has developed the disease is truly sad and I think I can speak for the majority when I say that we all fervently hope she does well in controlling and/or overcoming it.

The outrage comes from the way in which her diabetes was disclosed. Whatever her personal motivations might have been, sitting on the diagnosis – keeping it from her audience and from her principal employer – for three years and only coming out about it after she had secured a lucrative deal with a drug company was a move that was perceived as dishonest at worst and stupid at best.

“But it’s her personal life and she shouldn’t have to tell everybody about her personal life.” Oh, come on, people! Paula lives to tell everybody about her personal life. I’ve seen her discuss everything from her adult diapers to her husband’s feet to a family suicide at her live shows. And besides, any person with as big a following as Paula Deen shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations about a personal life. I don’t think Gordon Ramsay’s alleged extra-marital affair or his legal battle with his father-in-law have any bearing on his abilties in the kitchen, but the media trots these things out there for public consumption nonetheless. Where’s the “poor Gordon” choir?

I read one beknighted devotee who proclaimed, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Diabetes doesn’t come from eating. It’s genetic.” Do I really have to address that one? I didn’t think so. But people like that are out there.

My favorite chorus is the one that goes, “I don’t know why everybody’s down on Paula for using butter. You see other TV chefs use butter in everything and nobody complains about them.” Damn right other chefs use butter. But there’s a difference between using it and abusing it.

Personally, I think margarine is France’s way of sticking it to the rest of Western culture in order to maintain its veneer of culinary superiority. That French chemist didn’t invent the stuff back in 1869 to feed an army, he invented it so the French could say – in a bad Maurice Chevalier accent, – “Let’s feed zees disgusting crap to zee Americains. Zey will eat anything zey theenk is French and we will use butter to remain superior in zee kitchen.”

Seriously, butter is a naturally produced saturated fat and, yeah, enough of it will probably kill you. Margarine and shortening are chemically produced hydrogenated fats – trans fats – that will kill you quicker and won’t taste as good doing it. So pick your poison. Professional chefs use butter not only because of the taste factor, but because there are things you just can’t do with margarine. Ever try a margarine beurre blanc?

So, yeah, Deen-ites, Paula’s not the only TV chef who uses butter. But she’s the only one who deep fries it! And she’s made a career out of laughing at her own excesses.

And that’s one of the things that most egregiously offends me – and others, especially diabetics; her unrepentent attitude. Numerous sources have quoted her as saying her diagnosis won’t change the way she cooks.

I’m all for dancin’ with the one what brung ya, but if that dance partner subsequently breaks a leg, you’ve either got to quit dancin’ or find a new partner. Paula needs to do one or the other.

Paula’s disappointed, I read, that none of her celebrity chef peers have rushed to her defense. Michael Symon sort of did on a recent episode of ABC’s The Chew, but could it be that the predominant silence reflects a general belief that she is wrong?

Fandom is a funny thing. The term “fan,” of course, is short for “fanatic” – which the dictionary defines as “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal.” And people with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal for Paula Deen will never consider that the object of their affection could be anything less than they have built her up to be. And they will similarly never understand people who are not possessed of the same extreme and uncritical enthusiasm.

Paula’s sick. I’m sorry. Paula’s sick, but she’s not going to change her ways. I’m sorry and disappointed. Paula’s sick and she’s not going to change her ways and, against the advice of her family and her longtime publicist, she’s going to make a pile of money promoting a drug that treats the condition to which her chosen lifestyle contributes and which, by the way, almost nobody in her fan base can afford. I’m sorry, disappointed, and outraged.

Loyal subjects, it’s time for a look at the woman behind the curtain.

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