Scott Mowbray
January 18, 2012

The online disdain churned up by Paula Deen’s announcement of her recent history of diabetes and her endorsement of a diabetes treatment program seems to come from a pit of acid located not far from the great sea of political vitriol. Bubbling around in this case are issues of class, weight, puritanical judgment, and maybe a dose of condescension toward a self-made woman of the South.

Deen certainly made herself a target for the I-told-you-so crowd: Her gleeful history of laying on fat and sugar and oversized portions have been something to behold (though far less obnoxious than, say, a show like Man Versus Food). Of course, this sort of gleeful excess is not that much different from that shown by legions of comfort-food, pork-fat-mad restaurants in cities like New York in the past few years. But those restaurants are cool. Paula Deen isn’t cool.

What she is is popular. Her pharma partner is presumably counting on that popularity: Many in the target audience are likely to relate to her since, after all, she looks just like many in the target audience.

It’s fair game to wonder why she took three years to announce her condition and to look askance at the timing of her endorsement deal. But the lasting issue will be the quality of her conversion: Will she take a heartfelt, consistent, concrete approach to healthy eating and share the details of what must surely be a difficult struggle with her millions of fans? If so, she could be more of a force for change than the snipers who seem morally outraged that a successful, rather jolly woman is sick.

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