Slippery Issues

Chewing the Fat: Paula Deen Attack Stories Show No Sign of Slowing Down

Deen, last month in New York.
Deen, last month in New York. Photo: Getty Images

It’s been two days since Paula Deen confirmed the rumors that she’d been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and the noise from her critics is growing. It seems like just about everyone has a problem with the way Deen has handled this situation. The consensus is that using a three-year-old diagnosis as a springboard for a diabetes-drug endorsement deal is a move that’s slimy at best, and malicious at worst. Even Ad Age says Deen’s “brand is suffering.” In response to the backlash, Deen announced yesterday on the Chew that she will donate an undisclosed percentage of her earnings to the American Diabetes Association. But that gesture doesn’t appear to have swayed public opinion all that much.

Dr. Marion Nestle takes umbrage with the fact that Deen isn’t acknowledging that improved diet and exercise routines are important steps in treating type 2 diabetes, or even preventing it in the first place. Nestle writes that “even a relatively small reversal of calorie balance can make symptoms of type 2 diabetes disappear and reduce or eliminate the need for drugs.”

Maverick Farms co-founder Tom Philpott notes that there are very real problems with the drug Deen is endorsing: “The FDA approved Victoza in January 2010, but it did so amid strong evidence of a link to thyroid cancer,” and in June of 2011 the group “issued a warning about the risks of thyroid cancer and pancreatitis associated with the diabetes drug liraglutide (Victoza).” Philpott adds that “some medical authorities” question whether diabetes drugs like Victoza offer any benefits at all. (Of course, any patients who actually let Paula Deen influence their medical decisions might have bigger problems than high blood glucose.)

Here’s the thing: The Paula Deen that appears on TV has never been anything other than a caricature. Her whole Southern-grandma shtick is so cartoonishly over-the-top that it’s amazing anyone takes it seriously. (That she developed a recipe for deep-fried butter should be enough of an indication that she’s in on the joke.) More than anything, it’s impressive that she managed to parlay that character into a multi-million-dollar empire built on Krispy Kreme bread pudding and endorsement deals that are as cheesy as her recipe for ham-and-banana casserole.

Artist’s rendering of Paula Deen at home.Illustration: Andrei Kallaur, Jen Cotton

Why would anyone expect Deen to handle her diabetes diagnosis any differently? Of course this woman is going to endorse a quick-fix diabetes drug while making only passing reference to the fact that everyone should eat better and exercise more. This is obviously not a woman who has ever cared about her audience’s health; this is a woman who cares about fattening up her bank account.

Weighing in on Paula Deen [Atlantic]
Paula Deen Hawks a Dubious Diabetes Drug [Mother Jones]
Earlier: Paula Deen Confirms Diabetes Reports, Drug Advertising Deal
Related: Buttered Up: A Look at Paula Deen’s Financial Empire

Chewing the Fat: Paula Deen Attack Stories Show No Sign of Slowing Down