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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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In Defense of Southern-fried Paula Deen


Celebrity chef Paula Deen lustily massages salt into "a mighty fat hog," as the dogs circle the cooking island. For the yams, "I'm only using half a stick of butter," she drawls before breaking into high laughter. Deen's popular Food Network show does Southern cooking with no brakes on the pork fat, butter, sugar or other dietarily incorrect ingredients.

Deen is plenty of woman in a land of plenty, and it has come as little surprise that she has Type 2 diabetes, a disease tied to high-fat diets. What has jarred some observers is that she's also become a spokeswoman for a diabetes drug — with no apparent show of repentance for, or change in, cooking style. Selling both unhealthy eating habits and drugs to deal with their consequences would seem to be working both sides of the street, would it not?

Perhaps, but so what? Here's the barbecue rub: Nothing on Deen's menu consumed now and then, and in reasonable portions, would hurt most otherwise careful eaters. After all, Deen's Southern-fried chicken using four eggs for the coating (and browned in "heart-healthy" peanut oil) employs considerably less "bad" fat than does Julia Child's French chicken fricassee. For a dish serving four, Madame Child throws in five tablespoons of butter, two egg yolks and half a cup of heavy cream.

Like Julia Child, Paula Deen honors a cooking heritage nurtured by the land. When it comes to vegetables — and Deen does do vegetables — the picks are turnip, mustard and collard greens growing in the local Georgia soil. And she adopts no dainty indirection about where the meat comes from, referring to the "big old ham" as "him," not "it." Deen would seem a hero to the locavore and slow-cooking (though not vegan) movements: The first prizes local ingredients, and the second, traditional foods.

Neither Child nor Deen has apologized for the fats and sugars in their traditional cooking.

Which leaves their health-conscious fans where?

The answer is, on their own. And on their own is where they should be. The health crises of obesity and related diseases stem from more than occasional servings of pecan pie under ice cream. It has to do with portion size and lack of exercise. It has to do with the decline of the family dinner hour, which teaches children eating discipline, puts their meals on a schedule and keeps them away from Burger King.

As for Deen's diabetes medicine pitch, the only bad message would be that a pill takes care of a dietary problem. A pill cannot cure diabetes, an awful disease that can lead to heart ailments, blindness, kidney damage and infected feet. It only helps manage it.

Having come from near-poverty, Deen may find it hard to pass up a dollar. Her son Bobby Deen now has a cooking show called "Not My Mama's Meals," which lightens up Paula's dishes. Are the Deens now working three sides of the street?

Having built up a restaurant and cooking-show empire from nothing, Paula Deen has shown herself a gutsy, inventive woman. Let's see what she does in that ad.

Meanwhile, many staunch fans may not need alternative versions of her grillades and grits that go easy on the bacon grease. We know perfectly well how to make a light salad. As grownups, we are ultimately in charge of what we eat.


Correction: In a recent column on Mitt Romney's taxes, I erroneously lumped interest income in with dividends as investment income taxed at the 15 percent rate. Interest income is taxed as ordinary income. It is not to be confused with "carried interest," which enjoys the preferential 15 percent rate.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




6 Comments | Post Comment
Like Paula told Oprah years ago, "I'm your cook, not your doctor!"
Comment: #1
Posted by: Sherry Gore
Tue Jan 31, 2012 4:34 AM
She's right. We are ultimatly in charge of what goes into our bodies so who cares if there are unhealthy recipies out there. We are all adults and make our own choices, but this goes against many of the liberal ideas that Froma beleives in. If only she could use equate this concept in other areas.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Tue Jan 31, 2012 7:24 AM
I only have a problem with the fact that for the last THREE YEARS Paula Deen has known about her diabetes and has kept it a secret until she had another endorsement deal in place (with a drug company no less!). I enjoy her recipes and think she's a hoot and a holler (as my mom would say), but that three year gap screams "I don't know how I can handle this with my brand!".

Comment: #3
Posted by: nanchan
Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:06 AM
Regardless of any dietary issues that could be caused by Paula's use of bacon and butter, and any contract she signed to endorse a diabetes drug, she has NO mandate to release information on her PRIVATE health issues. No one needs to know the state of her health, or any illness she may have, and it's up to her to decide how much she's willing to disclose and when. It doesn't matter if her cooking is healthy or not. She's not funneling any of it down our throats. We all have free will, and should be using it.
Comment: #4
Posted by: JeannieA
Tue Jan 31, 2012 9:16 PM
I am truly upset by someone defending Paula Dean and her UNHEALTHY recipes. Yes we can make our own decesions but with the increase of Diabetes, she should have jumped on the band wagon and HELPED the thousands us out there that suffer from this disease. The article said it is tied to high fat diets. That is not completely true. It's the carbs that turn into sugar in your body. She's missing the boat because Paula has a host of people working for her that can research the disease, get the latest information and do the "uninformed general public" with some good tips. People have reversed their Diabetes. It takes determination and proper foods. There is a great book written called Death to Diabetes. This man had a blood glucose reading of 1337 and had woken up in the hospital from a coma. He should have died. They put him on insulin and oral meds. Four months later he was off everything. Come on Paula, be the first chef to come up with a Diabetes show with healthy recipes. Quit hiding behind your fame for unhealthy food! ! !
Comment: #5
Posted by: Liz P.
Wed Feb 1, 2012 4:53 AM
JeannieA: while you are correct that Paula Deen has no mandate to provide her health records to the public, she has made her brand about southern cooking and high fat recipes. She has been very publicly critisized by other chefs and health care professionals for her recipes. And she has continued to push her recipes through the years and has said publicly that they won't do you any harm in moderation, touting herself as an example.

When the word came out that she had diabetes, she was forced to come forward. If she hadn't found a way to capitalize on her disease, it would have destroyed her. I am willing to bet money that she was being blackmailed by someone and that's why she came forward when she did.

Liz. I agree with you. She (and indeed the Food Network) should now attack the serious epidemic of diabetes in this country with cooking shows targeting that audience.
Comment: #6
Posted by: nanchan
Thu Feb 2, 2012 3:39 AM
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