While Anne Rice confesses she’s never even heard of Paula Deen, Frank Bruni dedicates a column to her. As expected, he’s no fan of Deen’s recent actions: “There’s a dearth of reflection, a deficit of introspection, and that’s not just a generational thing and not just a regional thing,” he writes. “If she can leave Georgia for the sake of commerce, she can leave Georgia in the realm of consciousness.” See, Deen’s already had her “first strike” at losing the benefit of the doubt. This isn’t the first time that Bruni’s covered Deen in one of his columns — but he’s not nearly as sympathetic as he used to be.
Back in August of 2011, Bruni wrote a column called “Unsavory Culinary Elitism” that unpacked a spat between Anthony Bourdain and Deen. Bourdain accused her of being the “worst, most dangerous person to America,” and Deen responded by telling the Post, “Not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine. My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills.”
Bruni identified this shade as “class-inflected hypocrisy in the food world.” He defended Deen, calling her one of the “champions of downscale cooking”:
Put aside her one-with-the-masses pose, ludicrous in light of the millions she has made from television shows, cookbooks, cookware, mattresses and more. She’s otherwise 100 percent justified in assailing the culinary aristocracy, to which even a self-styled bad boy like Bourdain belongs, for an often selective, judgmental and unforgiving worldview. And her retort exposes class tensions in the food world that sadly mirror those in society at large.
Of course, Bruni is justified in changing his mind about Deen two years (and two scandals) later. Now, he says, “Paula the Deep-Fried Boor” is just a “shtick.” Americans are cynical about her, and for good reason. The hypocrisy has flipped: It’s hypocritical of Paula and her fans to argue that she’s excused of her shitty behavior because of her class, age, or hometown.Still, what Bruni wrote back in 2011 holds true: “Treating Deen, Lee & Co. with anything that smacks of moralizing and snobbery isn’t likely to move them or their audience toward healthier eating. It’s apt to cook up resentment.”