This week’s “revelation” that Paula Deen, “the Butter Queen” is now a Type II diabetic was a surprise to nearly nobody. Deen, who revealed a harrowing backstory in her memoir of a bootstrapped career in catering, has enjoyed a surprising rise to fame on television. Two weeks ago, following in Emeril Lagasse’s footsteps, she appeared as Grand Marshal for the Rose Parade right here in Pasadena.
Of course, her otherwise ordinary “Southern Cooking” has been exaggerated out of all recognition with extra excess butter and sugar and mayonnaise, and so for years now cads like Anthony Bourdain have called her a scourge on the culinary scene (well, actually, he called her a lot worse than that, but he’s Anthony Bourdain. I’m paraphrasing politely, even though I kind of agree, at least foodwise).
With the revelation that she’s Type II, which everyone knows and fears due to their own increasing girth, Deen is bound to be the butt of predictable jokes this week and next, or until the next big Kardashian “revelation” that newspaper readers apparently care deeply about, or at least they do according to the reality TV networks footing the ad bills. (Even the New York Times has wasted column inches on this kind of drivel this year. Journalistic standards are dropping all over the place, I tell ya.)
But tell the truth, y’all: she ain’t the only one responsible. Not by a long shot. Read any “major” chef’s cookbooks and magazine offerings, other than perhaps those of Nobu, who deals mainly in raw seafood unadorned by carbs or noticeable layers of fat, and you’ll quickly realize that MOST of them exaggerate the salt, sugar and fat content of their dishes well beyond reason. Very few of them deal out plain vegetables on the plate. Very few deal out meats or fish without big sauces.
The other big, big feature stories on food in the New York Times this week:
1. Mark Bittman doing a quasi-deep bankruptcy commentary on Hostess that manages to recount his entire childhood consumption of Twinkies and co. in loving, fine-grained detail. He still attempts to sound self-righteous about it by the end because the ingredients include “ultra-processed flour”.
2. David Tanis of Chez Panisse, waxing lyrical about French lentils (du Puy or Die) as a salad with vinaigrette, hard-boiled eggs (so far, so good), some lettuce and….big fatty slabs of pork belly on top. Five or six of them per plate.
3. “The Miracle of Bo Ssam”–which turns out to be David Chang of Momofuku’s recipe for pork shoulder slathered in salt and brown sugar–twice–and cooked down for six hours in the oven. Caramelized barbecue. In fact, “crack” barbecue, to match Momofuku Milk Bar’s world-famous (to bloggers, anyway) “crack” pie made with most of the same ingredients.
Now people. With all of that going on, with Thomas Keller still boiling his vegetables in brine and poaching his lobster bits in butter, with the Culinary Institute of America instructing its naive young students to salt, salt some more, and salt yet again to achieve that perfect degree of salting in each dish (Coronaries ‘R’ Us), and with Congress sucking its collective thumb about local schools’ move this year to exclude french fries and pizza from the “vegetable” categories in their cafeterias—–
Does anyone really think that Paula Deen is NOT a woman of her time?
She’s nowhere near the worst–she’s just not as fashionable as all the tatted-up young bucks who get picked for Top Chef. She’s also not dishy, like Nigella Lawson, whose cookbooks, which started out about 10-15 years ago emphasizing lighter fare like Vietnamese salads with chiles, have also drifted drastically in the direction of high-calorie “indulgence” foods–some of them utter unmitigated goo-fests (avocado, mayo, roquefort? peanut butter, corn syrup, marshmallow fluff, chocolate bars? puff-pastry chicken pot pies-for-one?). Lawson makes the national news, at least in the UK, when she comes back out in public looking svelte again after puffing up too far past the point where male reviewers are still drooling. Will her next book of recipes slim down commensurately?
Unlike the more fashionable TV chefs on her network, Paula Deen is middle-aged and looks it. She’s fat, she’s gray though beautifully coiffed, she’s politely made up and decently dressed–no orange signature clogs–and she smiles. Maybe a little dippily, but if you didn’t know who she was, and hadn’t read any of her books or seen her on TV, and she walked past you on the street, you’d think she was ok. Pretty normal, in fact. And she probably is. As long as you don’t make her recipes the way she wrote them.
It’s no feat to take at least one stick of butter out of most recipes. Or to pick a green salad or something that doesn’t include butter or sugar, if you object to those. Or to lose the extraneous, gratuitous teaspoon of salt per recipe that still seems to find its way into many fashionable cookbooks. So do it.
One other thing. Paula Deen has Type II diabetes. Yes, she’s significantly overweight. Visibly so. So are more than half of American adults these days. What she eats and how much are probably not so different from what and how much most American adults are eating–in terms of calories. She may even be doing a bit better than the national average, though–she does eat vegetables. And she has a doctor. And a busy and successful career that she built up for herself. Of course, that now includes endorsements for Novo Nordisk’s non-insulin diabetes medication–which she’s been taking for quite a while on the way to deciding whether or how to handle the news of her disease…hmm.
Well. She’s DEFINITELY a woman of her time.
The message: no, you shouldn’t eat the way her cookbooks present. No, you generally shouldn’t cook that way, or if you do, take that extra stick of butter or jar of mayo out of the recipe. And halve the portions. And serve some decent plain fresh green vegetables on the side to get some breathing room back into your plate.
But the other message is: don’t be so quick to say, “Serves her right.” Or if you say it for her, say it for every goddamn one of the Food Network stable AND all those food glam restaurant superheroes. They’re a lot more deceptive–and self-deceptive–about what they’re pushing. And if they eat what they cook and get the big praise for today, you can bet their day will come.
Filed under: books, cooking, Desserts, Diabetes, Eating out, Food Magazines, Food Politics, Food TV, nutrition, unappetizing | Tagged: Bo Ssam, Chez Panisse, Culinary Institute of America, David Chang, David Tanis, diabetes, Food Network, Hostess Twinkies, Mark Bittman, Momofuku, Nigella Lawson, nutrition, obesity, Paula Deen, Southern cooking, Thomas Keller, Top Chef, Type II diabetes |