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As someone who was raised in Boston, spent a significant amount of time in the South, and watches just about every cooking show on TV (even though I can’t cook), Paula Deen’s southern twang has always been soothing. However, I have been worried for a while about the message she sends. Basically, Deen was looking for a way to differentiate herself, and for cooking shows, that’s the name of the game.

Gordon Ramsey became famous because he curses, screams, and uses just about every superlative in the book. Rachael Ray became famous because she was kind of this little elf who is cute as a button. Giada de Laurentiis can cook, but there are two other reasons she became famous. Emeril Lagasse’s claim to fame was his “booms” that he would utter during the show. And Martin Yan did his best to bank on his Chinese accent and corny jokes to be different from a lot of the staid chefs on television at the time.

And then comes Paula Deen. She arrived at a time when many chefs were trying to cook a bit more heart-healthy. Like Yan, Deen knew that there were not many chefs on national television with Southern accents, and she makes sure to lay it on thick whenever she speaks. She also probably knew that many – if not all – television chefs (the great and truly wonderful Eric Ripert excluded) are incredibly self-conscious about their hair (c’mon Gordon Ramsey, did you really think we wouldn’t notice the hair plugs?). So, she decides to appear on television with her shocking white mane of hair. It almost looks like she dyed it white. In many ways, with her friendly smile, Southern twang, chubby good looks, and white hair, she’s kind of a cross between your mother and grandmother.

Maybe that’s the reason why she avoided getting torched by critics. Basically, Deen’s motto has been taste first, health second. And you can tell by her body shape that she practices what she preaches. But why have so many organizations not openly attacked her style of cooking? Anyone who watches her show knows that the only thing her style of cooking will do is help promote obesity in America and beyond.

If shows like “The Biggest Loser” are really serious about helping Americans lose weight, then they have to publicly condemn people like Paula Deen. And where is the American Medical Association?

But after the latest Deen occurrence, I have decided that I just can’t watch her show anymore, and I’m going to turn the channel whenever her chubby persona appears on the TV. Despite rumors swirling for the past few years that Deen has Type II diabetes, she has dismissed them as rumors. Now we find out that she does have the disease.

If a television personality has a disease and chooses not to publicize it, I respect that. It’s a personal choice. However, the reason that it came out is because she and her overweight family members have signed a lucrative deal with the pharmaceutical Novartis for one of its diabetes medication. Of course Novartis is denying it, but that holds just about the same amount of credibility as former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’ Brien telling everyone a few weeks ago that there was no way he wanted to be the next head coach of Penn State football. Guess what? He’s now the head coach of Penn State football.

I just don’t understand why people can’t say, “No comment” instead of lying to the public.

Then Deen recently threw out the other little bomb when she revealed that she doesn’t eat the way she cooks. So, basically this makes her no different from the cigarette company executives who don’t smoke but manufacture cigarettes that harm people. Fantastic.

One of the problems with being a celebrity is that simple explanations become less simple. Deen says that the reason she didn’t tell everyone that she has Type II diabetes is because she didn’t feel ready. Actually, that’s understandable. Getting the news of a major medical problem is never easy, and it takes some people a lot of time to getting around to telling others.

But the problem is that Deen is a celebrity, and with the fame and money that her cooking shows and spin-off products have made her comes the responsibility of having to shoulder greater public scrutiny.

And the additional scrutiny doesn’t look good. A cynic would say that the real reason Deen didn’t come forward earlier is because she was searching for a way to minimize the damage to her empire that the news would probably bring. Why would anyone want to cook like her when we all know that her style of cooking is only going to lead people to an early death? If she has Type II diabetes because she’s overweight, then people will probably make the connection between her weight and her cooking, and that could spell the end of the Paula Deen cooking empire.

So, she waited because a few extra years of making money by selling a cooking style that the chef admits she doesn’t use for her own consumption is good for the chef’s bottom line. And getting a lucrative pharmaceutical deal for herself and her family members is the perfect way to mitigate the damage done to her cooking empire when people start to realize that you can’t use tons of Velveeta and butter in your cooking and expect to be slim.

And here’s the real problem and the one that America is dealing with: a heavy reliance on pharmaceutical drugs to solve our problems.

If Deen really wanted to make a statement, why doesn’t she come out and show us how to make Southern food using healthier substitutes? Why doesn’t she get a trainer (or get a better trainer) to help her lose weight. And by the way, for someone as old as Deen, just losing weight doesn’t always guarantee that the Type II diabetes will go away. Exercise is necessary.

But Deen is preying on America’s weakness for the quick fix by shilling for Novartis. I know that a lot of people want to always blame the drug companies, but that’s ridiculous. The vast majority of overweight people (and at various times in my life, I have included myself in that category) make a personal choice about what to put in their mouths. Of course I realize that the deck is stacked against people trying to resist the temptation of food by different tricks that the food companies use to whet the appetites of people. So, can we really blame Novartis for trying to push a drug that can help people with Type II diabetes? Not really.

Here’s the real area we should focus on in the future. Is Deen going to go for the money or do what’s best for her health? I present these as mutually exclusive occurrences because in many ways they are.

If Deen wants to go for the money (as so many jerks did who put America into the current mortgage crisis), then she should stay fat and keep taking Novartis’s medication. But if Deen wants to do what’s best for her health, she should start vigorously exercising to lose weight, rev up her metabolism, and get off the diabetes drugs. This isn’t like cancer because Deen has a choice of whether or not to have this disease. Of course, if Deen does lose the weight and lick this disease, there’s always the possibility that she’ll continue to pretend that she still takes the medicine so that she can maintain her lucrative contract with Novartis.

Yes, some will say that as people get older, the risk of acquiring Type II diabetes rises. That is true. And there are cases where exercise and weight loss still do not eliminate the disease. However, for the large majority of people, it does.

When I look at what a failure the “Occupy” movements were, there’s a part of me that just wants to pull out my hair. The “Occupy” movements had the right spark, but they didn’t have the right fuel to keep the movement lit. They were protesting not so much against the 1% of the wealthiest people in America (but everyone is looking for a catchy slogan, so let’s forgive them for succumbing to the same temptations as most of the corporations they were railing against) as against the people who were raiding America for rapacious personal gain.

I don’t mind paying someone a lot of money as long as they do something that really helps the U.S. and hopefully the rest of the world. Does Apple’s CEO Tim Cook deserve a lot of money? Considering how much Apple has transformed the electronics world and company’s continued strong performance, I would be hard-pressed to argue that he deserves a small salary. But former Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz is a great example of someone who walked away with millions ($10 – 14 million depending on how one calculates her compensation) despite the company performing poorly.

It seems hypocritical of the American public to attack the cigarette companies while keeping silent about people like Paula Deen. America has a major problem with food. We consume far too much, create too much waste, and then try to find the quick fix for the downstream problems.

I encourage everyone to just permanently boycott Paula Deen. She is not going to help you. Her concern for her own personal gain is America’s Big Problem. If you’re going to watch television, watch shows like “Avec Eric” that actually teach you about the food you are eating and about sustainable methods for raising it. Watch shows like “The Biggest Loser” which show what is possible with hard work. And by the way, the most impressive thing about that show is not what the contestants at The Biggest Loser Ranch do, but rather the weight loss achieved by people who were eliminated early from the contest. Some of the weight loss is truly staggering.

Paula Deen just cares about Paula Deen. Any person who pushes products that he/she would never use and which will hurt people should be put in jail. Seriously. And like all problems, the best way to deal with them is to eliminate them from hurting society.

 

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