UPDATE 2 (1/17): Dear members of the media: dietary fat has nothing to do with diabetes. Please stop trying to connect it with butter, lard, and deep-frying.
Rumors have circulated since last Spring, but according to multiple reports, Paula Deen is apparently days away from announcing that she has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (and living with it for a while?).
Allegedly, the decision to publicize her condition is financially motivated, as several sources report that she has signed a multimillion-dollar deal with the makers of a diabetes medication (
Novartis, according to reports not Novartis, which has denied bringing Ms. Deen on as a spokesperson).
I know — and in other news, water is wet (take a look at Ms. Deen’s “ultimate fantasy deep fried cheesecake” and Krispy Kreme burger). The ‘big news’ to me isn’t Ms. Deen’s medical condition, but rather that her “coming out party” will essentially be a drug company’s latest press release. It’s a worrisome message.
Many people on Twitter and Facebook have reacted to this news story by asking if (and, from what I perceive, hoping that) Ms. Deen’s diagnosis will serve as a “wake-up” call to the public that a steady diet of her style of cooking — which isn’t uncommon for many Americans — is a health risk.
Alas, I don’t think this will ring any alarms, especially since Ms. Deen’s public announcement is supposed to be intertwined with her endorsement of medication.
It would be different if she used her immense public platform to reflect on the pitiful state of the “Standard American Diet”. I’m not referring to a “diet” or “guiltless” recipes with sugar-free whipped cream and whole wheat cupcakes, but rather to creating a dialogue. Ms. Deen has a journey ahead of her, and she could really use this as an opportunity to take people on it.
How Ms. Deen chooses to manage her condition is her own business, but by signing an endorsement deal with Big Pharma, she makes a very clear public statement and recommendation to anyone else living with Type 2 diabetes: “take your medication!”.
That is precisely the message the pharmaceutical industry loves to hear (the underlying message being: “Medication matters more than eating habits”). It does not like to hear that nutritional management of Type 2 diabetes is realistic, sustainable, affordable, practical, and scientifically proven. After all, they can’t make a profit off of that. No one can trademark almonds. Note that “nutritional management” can refer to needing no medication at all or a lower dosages of medication.
It’s my hope that we in the nutrition and public health field will stories like this one not to blame people for their choices or trot out the same tired messages about just having smaller, “moderate” portions of processed food, but rather as an opportunity to showcase how Type 2 diabetes can be managed solely with and through whole, real food.
While we’re at it, let’s also challenge the notion that Ms. Deen’s cooking is the epitome of a cultural mainstay (how many times have we heard this style of cooking described as “all-American”?) or that it is somehow “of the people” (there is nothing elitist about a homemade batch of lentil and vegetable soup; if anything, it is the epitome of affordable cuisine).
Think the National Institutes of Health’s Children’s Inn regrets naming their kitchen after Ms. Deen a few months back?