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  • 24


     
    The Persecution of Paula Deen
    News/Comment; Posted on: 2012-01-26 15:11:51 [ Printer friendly / Instant flyer ]
    Hypocrisy of celebrity outrage? Or cultural assault?

    By L. Crane

    I've been watching the incredible hypocrisy concerning the targeting of Paula Deen unfold over the past few weeks, unavoidable even to a person without a television. The latest is that a type II diabetic is apparently unable to enjoy a cheeseburger, on a cruise, of all places.

    Anyone with some familiarity with the disease understands that some such enjoyments are occasionally allowed, and that one meal does not a lifestyle make. It's ridiculous.

    And since when have we been holding our nation's chefs accountable for a PhD in Nutrition? Just as an exercise, do a Google Images search of some of the best known, past and present -- Emeril Lagasse, Jeff Smith, Julia Child, Justin Wilson, Jacques Pepin, Pierre Franey. Do you see a single one among them who fits the current model of anti-obesity health? The only exception may be Martin Yan.


    Google Image search Paul Prudhomme and tell me he's not a walking candidate for gastric bypass surgery. Wolfgang Puck may have shed some weight, but he had his heavy history. And our nation's beloved Julia "If you're afraid of butter, use cream" Child regularly spooned out the most delicious arteriosclerosis on a plate to our continued delight. Have you READ "Mastering the Art of French Cooking"? If anyone should be strung up in this apparent modern gastrointestinal Grand Inquisition, the French should definitely be the first to go -- look at the contents of their delicious traditional cuisine as exemplified by Child's magnum opus from her Cordon Bleu experience in Paris.

    Since no one but Paula Deen seems to have ever been a target based on nutrition, or held up to being nutritionally responsible for their fans, obviously this isn't the issue. Is it the fact she admitted, rather than hid, an obesity-related disease whereas other chefs keep their coronary stents and Lipitor dependencies to themselves? I find that difficult to believe as well.

    Granted, a chef whose brand name depends on a warm, plump, down-home Southern cuisine image and client-base deciding to launch a campaign as the Novo Nordisk insulin pin-up girl is not the world's best game plan -- ask her ex-publicist. But it's hardly grounds for a lynching, and perhaps the ethical and economic dispersions cast on Deen's character might have more weight if they didn't come from arguably the biggest culinary prostitute in the business -- Anthony Bourdain. While Emeril Lagasse may arguably be the culinary industry's modern P.T. Barnum, at least he's cordial enough to know where his bread is buttered, as it were. I'm waiting for some fan to dig out the old episode of No Reservations where Bourdain is taped greedily sucking the marrow out of neon-colored bones in a dish of "Bone Soup" in Thailand -- I notice he's not held accountable for endorsing an establishment of questionable nutrition (and hygiene). No one takes photos and makes the ridiculous claim he's promoting a Third World-level lifestyle to his fan base. And if he wants to pick on someone's culinary credentials, let him start with Rachel Ray, Food Network's reigning bimbo in that regard.

    The bottom line is that food is both art and cultural history. Biscuits and gravy are a rural cultural tradition, and they evoke something far more than taste when they are shared. If you have ever seen "Like Water for Chocolate", "Babetteís Feast", "Chocolat", "and Eat Drink Man Woman", you have seen, immortalized in film, what many of us inherently understand -- food is not just the calories or nutritional content on a plate or its effect on your bones. It is love, it is coming home -- it is one of several variations of a spiritual connection of family, cultural, national, ethnic, and all-of-the-above tradition and ritual. It is childhood, personal, familial, regional and ethnic memory, experience, and history -- the taste equivalent of soul-touching through prose, paintbrush, or musical opus.

    "Soul Food" is about something deeper, richer, older, and far more profound in its other African cultural connotations than in its lack of meeting modern "healthy" nutritional standards, exactly as its name implies. Paula Deen is white rural and Southern America's "Soul Food" personification, both incarnate and exaggerated, but all we have nationally right now. If a hypocrite like Bourdain wants to pick on a Southerner for lack of genuineness, let him dig up Nathalie Dupree, for God's sake. Or is her native New Jersey just a little too close to his native New York to criticize?

    Sarah Palin hit a national nerve with her "s'mores" dig at Michelle Obama's "health" campaign -- how dare the liberal outsiders, the purveyors of culturelessness, tell us that the culinary way some of us relive our most precious past is unhealthy? And to the point that not a single instance is allowed -- that we must relinquish our culture on their consumerist altar under the guise of "nutrition"? I don't buy it.

    Given who has spearheaded the attacks, their vehemence and consistency, and who has been spared them for many of the similar, if not identical, health ills, I think this is just another underhanded discriminatory cultural assault. I find it convenient the only target happens to be a woman who pulled herself out of economically poor "redneck" roots, and was unwise enough to admit to having an obesity-related medical illness. In the consumerist world of the culinary industry, it's not about the monetary or ethical conflict of interest. Google Image "soul food chef" and imagine Bourdain, et. al., telling one of these wonderful offerors of ethnic fellowship on a plate that their "lifestyle" is unhealthy and persecute them for perpetuating it through their cuisine or recipes.

    To put it bluntly, Iím not happy that Deen has decided to pimp insulin. Iím disappointed in the obvious consumerism. But most of her most ardent critics are even FAR more consumeristic, whether itís Bourdain or the fake size-2 news-prompter-reader-deficients posing as reporters on TMZ. So methinks they doth protest too much, and unsuccessfully so.

    When the Bourdains give up their comfort food favorites, maybe the charade might be more believable. Until then, please pass the biscuits, will you? And hand me that bowl of apple butter down along with the gravy. And, oh yeah -- don't forget to say Grace first.


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