Get some popcorn folks, this one’s going to get ugly.
The tone of this blog is going to change this year. Year one can be summed up as “hey look at the fat guy who got off the couch and started moving! You can do it too!”
Year two is going to be different. The tone for this year is “ok, that was great, but the fat guy is still fat. Training is not magic. Let’s deal honestly with food.”
This is my 100th post. I have had some thoughts brewing for the occasion, and then a ready-made public debate fell right into my lap. If you submitted this story as a work of fiction, you’d be criticized for playing into easy stereotypes and writing archetypes, not real-life characters.
In this corner we have the sweetheart with the endearing southern accent, who just wants to stuff you full of comfort food. Shock of shocks, she has admitted publicly that three years ago she was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. She just so happens to announce this the same day as her new ad campaign as a celebrity spokesperson for a major drug company and their new diabetes drug, is launched.
And, in this corner, we have a loud mouthed elitist New Yorker and food snob (who smokes by the way) looking down and casting aspersions on the motives of the nice lady with the down home country charm.
Seriously, if this was a script, an editor would say it was too melodramatic.
Let’s cut right to my opinion on this. Anthony Bourdain is 100% right, and Paula Deen is a complete corporate sell-out, shill, and dangerous denier. Because she is otherwise so downright likeable, it makes her message so much more dangerous, and the most perfect distillation of exactly the cognitive dissonance that is American “health” today.
The reason I will jump on the Paula hating bandwagon is this: she had a great opportunity and she not only blew it, she is doing further damage. As someone who has also faced the reality of a diagnosis that I did not make public right away, I can certainly sympathize with a need to process the information. However, the teaming up with the drug company makes it clear that she is not just some random celebrity with an illness. She has had coaching on what she should say about this disease and what she should not. She also has built an empire on the kind of cooking that leads to this condition.
And here’s where the evil steps in. She has the raw audacity to spout complete bunk on national television, and think that because it’s done in her sweet, down home style, it’s not offensive. This is one of my pet peeves. There are plenty of people who get all up in arms about profanity, the use of certain words, but fail to recognize that the soft-spoken phrase can be far more offensive by its actual content.
So to the offensive content from Paula herself.
1. underplaying the reality of diet as a direct cause of Type II Diabetes
When asked on the Today show if this would change the way she cooked, she said no it would not. She pulled out the old red herring that there are a lot of factors involved. Well, yes, there are. Nothing is 100%. But let’s stop it with the appeal to genetics. There is no genetic history of diabetes in my family, but I was certainly determined to eat my way to it all by myself, and I did just that.
We are too afraid to call people out on their own behavior and say yes, this bad behavior led to this bad result. We no longer have trouble with identifying smoking this way. And guess what, not every smoker gets lung cancer or emphysema, and not everyone with those illnesses smoked. But that is no reason to consider smoking a neutral, consequence free activity.
The kind of food that Paula encourages is a direct line to health problems. She is a flat-out denier. The reason that it is no longer labeled as juvenile vs adult-onset, and now Type I and Type II, is that there are many children with the diagnosis now. Ask a healthcare professional how many Type II cases are preventable by behavior. The ones who don’t say 100% will probably quote you a figure above 95%.
2. Claiming she has always been a champion of moderation
Really? The appeal to moderation is the last refuge of someone with no other defense. When the ancient Greeks first introduced the philosophical concept of the golden mean, they didn’t intend that their feasts would eventually come to resemble what an overindulgent, neurotic modern American society would refer to as “moderation.” We have such extreme behavior on display, that anything can look like moderation now. We watch hoarders to feel better about the messes in our own houses. Well, I’m not THAT bad. As long as Joey Chestnutt goes up against Kobayashi in a hot dog eating contest, well then the crap we shove into ourselves can be passed off as moderate. On the menu at Paula’s own restaurant is a hamburger with 2 doughnuts as a roll. Tell me in what universe this has anything to do with moderation?
Now here’s where I have to step back and be fair and admit that I am a person with food issues, so I come at it differently. One could easily say “well maybe YOU, Andy, you can’t do moderation. That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t.” And again, on the surface that is true. But it’s not like I’m alone. Look around you. Our society is determined to eat ourselves to death.
Check out this interactive map – click animate.
Yes yes yes, everything does come down to personal responsibility, but when the people with a public soapbox flat out lie and deny the truth about the central role of diet, it doesn’t help the public at all. Most of this year I will be talking about just these issues, which have been a source of study for me for a long time now, even as I’ve failed to face my own behavioral issues with food. So I may be accused of having the zealot of a convert, but it’s way less dangerous than the smokescreen that is going on here.
3. Minor changes plus drugs – there’s your answer
So Paula “cut back” on sweet tea. Uh huh. Yeah honey, I know all about cutting back. And from one overweight American to another, I know what that means. You refuse to make any serious changes about your diet, because there is a MAGIC PILL!!!
And here it is. The source of Bourdain’s outrage, and the source of mine.
The message is take the drug to solve the problem. It’s not your fault.
Well, at the risk of really alienating people, this is exactly what is wrong with Americans. I am sure there are some people who need the drug and cannot reverse the process by behavior. But that’s the small minority. The vast majority of us who willfully got here of our own accord, have the power within us to reverse most of the damage. But why bother with all that, there’s a pill.
I couldn’t make this up: as soon as I found out about my elevated A1C, I was at a social function where I was offered a beverage by a nice host. I asked if it was sweetened, and turned it down nicely. Although I didn’t mention diabetes at all, and I’ve been drinking plain unsweetened tea for a few years now, he leaned in and said with a knowing tone “I understand, I have it too.” At first I though, well how obvious is it that the nearly 300 pound guy has this problem. Then he continued “that’s why I just take the pill and eat whatever I want.”
There you have it folks – I’m going to spell that out again:
I just take the pill and eat whatever I want.
OK, just one man’s anecdotal quote right? Wrong. Ask any physician how many patients they have who reflect the same belief or attitude. It is staggering.
This is insanity people. And Paula Deen is now contributing to the insanity. She is probably barred from saying anything off-script as a paid spokesperson for the drug company. The closest she will get is to say that food is A PART of it. That’s like saying that having a working engine in the car is only a part of driving. True, but the most vital part.
I want to like this lady. She seems genuine and kind. She has talked publicly about a difficult life before becoming a famous TV personality. I have no reason to doubt her. But with a huge audience and bully pulpit comes a responsibilty to tell the truth, and she has taken the money that will prevent her from doing that even if she wanted. I don’t know what’s scarier, the idea that she really has made changes but can’t say so because she’d be violating a contract, or the idea that she is still in that level of denial. I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt and say the latter.
Still, deluded people may be sympathetic, but that doesn’t mean we have to entertain their delusions unchallenged. She says it’s garish to talk about money, and she’s paid for her work like anyone else. Convenient dodge when that work happens to be repeating the mantra – Drugs solve your problems.