Paula Deen’s flabbergasting denial has wide implications

Paula Deen is not only going to keep eating a high-fat, high-sugar diet, but she’s going to be there to help the rest of us as we struggle with diabetes.

Um, what? Who is falling for this?

There is either major cynicism or denial at play here and the result is the same: At best, there’s an enormous loss of credibility. At worst, there’s a sheen of shysterism.   

Ms. Deen, the host of two popular southern cooking shows on the Food Network that tout some of the fattiest, cheesiest, sugar-laden food around, announced yesterday that she was diagnosed with Type II diabetes.

Three years ago.

Deen has spent the past three years just as she’s spent most of the past fifteen years: extoling the virtues of butter, cream, and sugary cakes and pies. The very kinds of foods that lead to diabetes. Deen’s restaurant in Savannah, is best known for its buffet that serves fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, and fried Twinkies. You get the idea.

I don’t have any real interest in chastising Ms. Deen for being as human as the rest of us. I happen to love fried green tomatoes. A friend once made me a gooey butter cake and it is fantastic. Plenty of people eat bad food.

The part that comes next is what’s making my stomach turn. Ms. Deen’s announcement came in conjunction with her new job: plugging sales for Novo Nordisk, the company that makes her diabetes medication.

She said she was purposely keeping her news to herself while she figured out what to do. That makes sense for some period of time. But three years? This is a woman who has spent her life encouraging people to eat in ways that ensure a thriving clientele for Novo Nordisk. This is a problem, and her news has been greeted around the web and social media circles with much tsk-tsking and head shaking. People are having a hard time buying Ms. Deen’s sincerity.

But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Let’s set aside for a moment the most cynical and obvious way of considering this announcement, which is to say that Ms. Deen has been calculating and scheming how to make more money and expand her empire by trading on her illness.  

Okay. She said she didn’t want to come to the table empty-handed, that she wanted to have something to offer. Let’s surmise that maybe she was scared. Let’s say that beyond the considerations of her business, Ms. Deen wasn’t ready to face the reality that what she eats is causing her major problems. What she’s eating is killing her. She’s got plenty of company in this regard.

This situation could be a classic example of denial running rampant. I know it may seem incredible that anyone could not see what is so completely obvious to us: She’s causing her own health problems. And yet, that’s the joy and the pain of deep denial. And when we are in great denial, we are almost always causing great harm. We cause harm to ourselves, certainly, but we also cause harm to those in our sphere. It just so happens that Ms. Deen has a very large sphere.

Ms. Deen’s major corruption here is a lack of integrity, perhaps caused by this deep denial. She is saying one thing and doing another.

And there’s nothing like an integrity problem to get people riled up. We are all familiar with this particular bit of human behavior. It’s the legislator who votes for some inane defense-of-marriage-act and cheats on his wife. It’s the drunk who criticizes the ways that other drunks misbehave. It’s the boss who asks her underlings to work late and then takes off for a manicure.

People hate this kind of stuff.

If Paula Deen had come forward early on and said, “Oh, honey, we are in for some changes. We can do this together,” we could have gotten our heads around that. If she had come out and said that she was sorry and that she didn’t know how to handle such an enormous blow not only to her personal life but to the world of food that she’s created for all of us, we could  have understood that.

But Ms. Deen is, instead, walking a very bizarre line. She’s not going to change her ways, but she’s going to help us live with diabetes.

Oh, honey, how is this ever going to work?

When she has been criticized in the past for her high-fat and high-sugar recipes, Ms. Deen has lashed back and said that she cooks for the everyday person, not the person who can afford high-bucks, highfalutin food.

Excellent. Because everyday people need to relearn how to eat well. Everyday people need to understand that high-quality, life-enhancing, delicious food doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive.

Paula Deen has enormous influence. How great would it be if she stood up and said, “Hey, we’re never too old, or too sick, to learn new things?” How about Ms. Deen going back into her kitchen and using her experience and skills to relearn how to make simple, nutritious, and delicious food for the masses?

Now that would be a refreshing dish.  


  1. Anne,
    Did you see that her son, Bobby, has a new Cooking Channel show called “Not my mama’s meals”? Hmmm.

  2. Yes, Ellen…the whole empire is already expanding. The new website for Novo Nordisk is already up and running, too.


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