by Paul Adler
For those who haven’t yet heard the news, prominent Southern-style cook and butter advocate Paula Deen has announced she’s been diagnosed with Type II diabetes. More shockingly, Deen has revealed she’s known about this disease for the past three years. Paula Deen has been renowned in the world of cooking but often criticized and lampooned in popular culture for her unabashed love of foods that seemingly lack any and all nutritional providence. The champion of “sinful” foods has been lambasted recently by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Barbara Walters, both of whom have accused Deen of propagating unsafe diets, especially in light of Lunch-Box Set, a cookbook in which our beleaguered “down-home” heroine literally tells children there’s no harm in eating, say, cheesecake at breakfast, or perhaps chocolate cake, meatloaf, and french fries for lunch.
A popular online meme of Ms. Deen depicts the chef riding a stick of her favorite condiment.
The news of Deen’s diagnosis should hardly be cause for incredulity on the part of the American public but at this point it’s probably safe to say, at the very least, the woman practiced what she preached. The premise of her predicament is quite simple, really—if you act with reckless abandon for your physical health by eating food that’s been scientifically proven detrimental to your body’s natural, survival-requisite functions, complications such as Type II diabetes (or high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, what have you) are liable to abound. However, there undoubtedly exist some misconceived notions on the nature of Deen’s current tribulations; one can stand to be sure that right now, “intellectual types” all across this country are labeling this diagnosis as “poetic justice” or, just as inaccurately, reveling in the moment’s “irony.”
With the aim of dampening this pseudo-intellectual security blanket, let us clarify: the sense of “irony” implied by Deen’s diagnosis can be succinctly defined as the incongruity between the expected and actual result of a course of action or a particular event. (This same misinterpretation of the term had Alanis Morrisette catching flak back in ‘96 because no one can reasonably expect that it absolutely will not rain on his or her wedding day). There’s a lack of irony here simply because this diagnosis should be the reasonable and expected consequence of Paula Deen’s culinary hedonism. Heretofore, this woman has essentially been a gastronomic berserker, rushing headlong into a feeding frenzy of trans fats and high sodium while seemingly sneering in the face of science and the notion of nutrition, double-chinned maw agape and massively-coiffed head tilted skyward, angrily shaking her fists, daring all her ill-conceived dishes—with their blatantly unhealthy ingredients and questionable preparation—to take their dually awful course on her person.
Similarly and even more tragically, the term, “poetic justice,” when used in this type of situation, implies the punishment of wrongdoing or vice. However, Deen wasn’t intentionally hurting anyone or committing any sort of purposed transgression in her advocacy of fatty, salty, sugary, or any other kind of detrimental food. It would seem this woman genuinely thought she was bringing joy to people by offering them “comfort food:” edibles that, although overtly lacking in substantive, nutritious value, are tasty and gratifying. It would be ironic to use the phrase, “poetic justice,” here.
Now that we’ve dispatched the semantic speed bump of misappropriated witticism, perhaps our (rather, your, the intelligent, discerning reader’s) thirst for meaning and sense demands a more apt interpretation of Deen’s predicament.
There is a droll sort of darkness in Paula Deen’s ailment. If we presuppose that even the most marginalized members of our generation are slightly acquainted with existentialistic notions, we may come back from Deen’s diabetic life-sentence with a hefty dose of gallows humor. One of the things about which we as a culture have been particularly self-congratulatory is the evolving presence of agency and “free will” in many historically-subjugated portions of the population—women, African-Americans, and homosexuals, for example. How tragically absurd is it that this paragon of nutritional disregard, this Savannah-born, Smithfield ham-slinging, margarine-swilling culinary Josef Mengele, should now see the fruits of her insouciant glutting? Even more absurd is the fact that in light of this diagnostic revelation, Deen will be publicly stripped of her free will, of her rights—she will become a dietetic prisoner, relegated to high-fiber roughage and Chobani yogurt. Hey, maybe that is a little ironic.
Perhaps, in the future, the most absurd thing to emerge from this situation will be the continued nonchalance of the hefty (oh no he didn’t) portion of the American public that subscribes to Deen’s dogma. Perhaps those of us who don’t have to buy two tickets to fly solo on United or Delta can find ongoing humor in how absolutely farcical our nation’s “War Against Obesity” has become. While Conservatives decry Michelle Obama’s socialist implementation of public school-enforced dietary measures, we continue to giggle at Wilford Brimley’s utterance of “die-uh-bee-tuss,” to ridicule the families feeding their kids from McDonald’s counters across America, and to scoff at the growing statistics that betray just how many of us are “too fat.” Perhaps, in the future, we should give the matter of America’s expanding waistline a bit more gravitas when it comes to excusing ourselves, as a culture, for the way we act.
Hopefully the time has come, as Paula Deen begins to backpedal over her own axioms, to refute the absurdities of our collective “Battle of the Bulge.” Deen’s medical revelation should testify to the overarching complacency of the American public when it comes to how we treat our bodies. We need to hold ourselves as the responsible architects of our own fates and we need to stop excusing the obese if they decide to displace their self-faulting or demand exceptional circumstances from the rest of us. They are not helpless. They are not victims. They need to exercise a modicum of agency over how they allow themselves to live or, should they meet with a failure of the will, stifle their complaints when an airline demands they pay for two seats or when a domestic icon like Ms. Deen is presented with a diagnosis that should, within all reason, be expected. Furthermore, they need to dismiss all the spurious sources of information and poorly-constructed advice from phonies like Paula Deen who, in an almost inconceivable maneuver, has further let on that she’s now endorsed by Novo Nordisk, the maker of a diabetes medication. Really, it’s as simple as this: if you eat shitty food, you’re probably going to get fat and if you get fat, you’re probably going to develop something like Type II diabetes. Don’t listen to anybody who tells you otherwise.