She's Cashing In, but Does Paula Deen Really Get the Last Laugh?

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The Food Network personality and food mogul said she has no plans to change her lifestyle or the way that she cooks. Who is she kidding?

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The first time I watched Paula Deen's cooking show on the Food Network, I was reminded of my daughters when they were elementary school age -- they loved to cook, alright, but they had no interest in washing lettuce or scraping carrots or whipping up a nice pot of chicken soup. What they wanted was to concoct treats -- frosted cookies and cupcakes, candy, s'mores ... anything that could be garnished with gummy bears. Paula Deen's cuisine -- buttery, cheesy, gooey, meaty, sweet, and served up in heaping portions -- is very much like what my kids whipped up, gobbled up, and more than once threw up. The difference is that Paula's offerings are served up not with childish abandon, but with a steamy pile of ersatz southern charm and a deep-seated cynicism. Deen is a self-made woman who made her name, and her fortune, selling a sort of snake oil -- the canard that anyone who has a problem wedging a bacon and egg cheeseburger between two glazed donuts and serving it up for "lady''s brunch" is an uptight, humorless tofu toting food nanny.    

That Deen has diabetes is no secret, that she would sign on a highly-paid spokesperson for an expensive diabetes medication is no surprise. But what is surprising is that she would -- at her age, weight, and condition -- proudly announce that she has no plans to change her lifestyle. When queried by USA Today as to who is likely to get diabetes, Deen answered thusly: "It's about heredity. It's about age, lifestyle, race." Well, yes, but Deen has type 2 diabetes, a disease that most experts consider all but preventable with healthy diet, weight control, and exercise. Type 2 diabetics who control their disease with the sort of costly drug that Deen is hawking are far less likely to lead long, healthy lives than those who essentially treat themselves by modifying their lifestyle.

There are 26 million diabetics in this country, and 79 million Americans are pre-diabetic. Many of us know someone who has died from the disease and even more of us know someone who has it. It's a crappy thing to live with, and a huge drain on health care dollars. If we care about any of this, it's time we agree that deep fried butter balls -- even "in moderation" is not a food, but a punch line.

Image: Reuters.

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Ellen Ruppel Shell is a professor and science journalist who teaches at Boston University. She is the author most recently of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. More

Atlantic contributing editor Ellen Ruppel Shell teaches at Boston University, where she co-directs the Graduate Program in Science Journalism. She writes on science, medicine, the media, economics, and sometimes even sports and the arts, and tends to focus on the underlying cultural and societal implications. She is the author most recently of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.
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