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Paula Deen, "Queen of Southern Cuisine," Announces She Has Type 2 Diabetes

January 18, 2012

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After much speculation and murmuring in the gossip mills, Paula Deen finally confirmed yesterday on the Today show that she does in fact suffer from Type 2 diabetes. This news is not exactly surprising; the TV chef and self-proclaimed “queen of Southern cuisine” is famous for her decadent deep-fried cooking laden with butter, sugar, and lard.

What is shocking, however, is the fact that she waited three years to reveal her diagnosis – and is apparently only speaking publicly about it now that she’s a paid spokesperson for a diabetes drug. Aside from giving up sweet tea, she says she doesn’t plan to drastically change her diet and cooking habits. At best, her blasé approach to tackling diabetes is one-sided; at worst, it’s calculated and cynical.

I admit, I love Paula Deen. In a fast-paced world where people rarely cook for themselves and family meals have been scrapped for fast food, Paula represents all that’s good about food traditions. Harkening back to the meals that her grandmother and great-grandmother prepared, she infuses every dish she makes with love. Although it’s impossible to defend the Krispy Kreme burger and many of her over-the-top creations, Paula encourages people to get back into the kitchen and cook from the heart. I applaud her for that.

Yet as the incidence of Type 2 diabetes continues to skyrocket – especially and most tragically in children – it’s essential to acknowledge the role that diet plays in preventing and managing this crippling disease. That’s why it’s so disappointing to hear Paula cheerfully make light of her illness with the quip, “Diabetes is not a death sentence.” For some people, it actually is – and for everyone else, it’s a lifetime of serious medical problems that can lead to blindness, kidney failure, permanent nerve damage, and heart disease.

Paula’s health and private life is her business alone, but there’s no changing the fact that as a celebrity, her words carry weight. Diabetes is a big deal, and with an entire TV show at her disposal, it seems that she has every opportunity to set a good example and raise awareness about the importance of healthy eating.

Paula definitely had a point when she said, “Like I told Oprah, ‘Honey, I’m your cook, not your doctor.’ You have to be responsible for yourself.” Yet we wonder if Paula would do well to accept the challenge extended by PCRM (headed by IIN speaker Neal Barnard, MD) and endorse the wisdom in Hippocrates’ advice, “Let food be thy medicine.”