Whose Life Is It Anyway?

Scrolling through my Twitter feed on Tuesday, I read that TV chef Paula Deen revealed to her fans and the public that she has Type 2 diabetes and has been battling the disease for several years now, even while she continues serving up over-the-top deep-fried, butter- and sugar-laden recipes. In an interview on the Today Show, Deen told Al Roker that she had no intention of ending her show or her brand of cooking.

Deen, who has had various sponsor relationships over the years, will now be promoting a diabetes treatment while she continues to cook unhealthy recipes. The way she balances this, she says, is by cautioning people during her show to eat foods like hers in moderation, and to point her loyal viewers toward a new show her son is running, dubbed “Not My Mama’s Meals,” that is supposed to offer lighter versions of Mama Dean’s dishes. (In checking out the site, the recipes, including this one for shrimp and polenta, do seem pretty reasonable.)

I’ve only seen Paula Deen cooking on TV a few times, but in reading various stories about the news of her illness, I’ve seen some of her greatest hits recipes (or worst offenders, depending on who you ask), and they are pretty excessive. As some point out, her cooking often seems to be an adventure in the creation of extremes, rather than a homage to Southern favorites. (The hamburger topped with bacon and ensconced in a bun made of two donuts, and the mac and cheese that was wrapped in bacon, breaded and deep-fried tipped me off to this. That and the fact that not all Southern cooking is heavy and harmful, as this Web site reminds us.)

I am shocked and disgusted by some of the things I’ve seen come out of Paula Deen’s kitchen. We know that poor dietary choices can lead to diabetes (though the hereditary component can’t be forgotten), which can cause a chain reaction of deadly health events if it is poorly controlled. It disgusts me that Deen seems to be double-talking when it comes to this grave health situation–encouraging people to revel in fatty, sugary foods, then encouraging them to line up for medical treatments (including one she now promotes) to improve their health should they be diagnosed with diabetes. In her Today Show interview, she made no discussion of prevention through healthy eating, or healthy eating as a way to help improve glucose control in diabetics.

Part of me shakes my head at Deen, but part of me understands that she’s just capitalizing on a sizable contingent of the country who either watches her shows for the spectacle of it, or to actually duplicate and share her recipes. Of course, you can get with her program, or change the channel and rely on your own judgement that eating like that on a regular basis obviously does not do a body good. And Deen asserts that she eats healthy for the majority of her meals during a given month. (I’d be curious to know what she considers to be a healthy meal, though.)

I suspect that most people live their lives in this way; I fall into this category myself, as most days I eat appropriate foods in appropriate portions, and then there are some meals that feature pizza and queso-topped (baked) nachos. If we are to believe Deen, it’s just that her healthful/harmful dichotomy is playing out in a one-sided manner, live on TV. “Where’s the harm?” some people would say. Whose life is it anyway?

Where do you draw the line on what you put into your mouth, or what you encourage others to eat? I’m trying to figure that out nowadays. I feel weird sometimes about serving up blatantly unhealthy food. Although I do indulge in rich foods from time to time (exhibit A were the mini pecan pie/cookie desserts I made for Christmas), sometimes I’m serving things that I don’t eat, or I eat in a way that’s designed to instill some damage control (like serving my husband a cheesesteak on a hoagie roll, with generous quantities of light mayo, ketchup and fat-free cheese slices, while I make mine a wrap, with a smaller quantity of meat, one slice of cheese, and no condiments). The easy answer to give is that I’m the one who’s on the diet, not my family, and they are entitled to eat whatever they want, if that’s their choice. But is that the best answer for my family?

Everyone jokes about food being addictive, but sometimes I feel like a drug dealer of sorts. These days, I don’t “get high” on my own supply like I used to, but I sit back while friends and family load up on heavy foods. Is that appropriate? Is it more my responsibility to decide what to serve them, or is it their responsibility to choose the healthiest things for themselves?

Are you a “big loser” who cooks? What’s your take on this topic? Do you keep going strong with your old recipes for those who enjoy them, while you eat modestly, or have you thrown out your old playbook for healthful eating for everyone? I’m curious to hear your experiences.

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4 thoughts on “Whose Life Is It Anyway?

  1. You ask some thought-provoking questions, most of which I can’t answer! I am suspicious of easy answers, anyway. That old cliche, moderation, has a lot to it, with portion control high on the list. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a divide between people who give little thought to what they eat, and people who think too much about what they eat. I’m probably in the think too much camp most days! Great post.

  2. I really agree with you on so many points. You know, I’m 55, I’ve been cooking for 33 years, and I know the difference in healthy vs unhealthy cooking. Recipes I make that I find from food bloggers, or even recipes in my cookbooks, meals I’ve made for years, I skinny down everything. I never use full strength mayo or sour cream, and I sneak spinach in wherever I can.

    Now of course you can’t do this with recipes for baked goods, but then how often do we need to eat pie and cookies and btw, baked nachos sound amazing, but you can do it once in a while. Not that you should be listening to me because I’m overweight. But I like to eat! It’s not my cooking that makes people fat, it’s how much they eat (and drink and then eat after drinking not knowing they are eating). My meals didn’t get me in a size 16, it’s the sweets I crave after 7pm.

    I’m really disappointed that Paula didn’t take this opportunity to show us how to make good southern food that is healthy! She’s been bought by a pharmaceutical company. That’s the long and short of it. And that’s sad.

    ps: i ate in her restaurant in Savannah and the food was greasy and salty. a huge disappointment.

    • Thanks, Karen! I agree with you. It is possible to make southern food healthy, and it doesn’t sit well with me that Paula Deen is essentially talking out of both sides of her mouth on the issue.

      I like the idea of adding spinach whenever possible. You inspired one of my six-word weight loss stories in a later blog post! : ) And I agree on using lighter ingredients. I’ve been fortunate that people don’t seem to notice when I do that covertly.

      I also agree that it’s more about moderation and portion control when it comes to eating healthy. I’m disappointed to hear that Deen’s restaurant wasn’t good, but then again, I’m glad I didn’t try to go! I forget the name of it, but I went twice on the same trip to Savannah to a restaurant that serves Low Country/Caribbean food. The shrimp and grits were really good.

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