In defence of Paula Deen, battered cheesecake and ‘food porn’

I’ll be completely up front. I love celebrity cook Paula Deen. I love the drawl, I love the finger licking, I love her ever-so-slightly inappropriate relationship with her sons. That time she described a dish as so good you’ll want to “sass your mama” still captivates me. I’m a vegetarian, I don’t own a deep-fryer, but when it comes to food porn, I’ll always pick the gorgeous Georgian.

In recent weeks, a scandal has rocked the American food world. Paula Deen, the delightful doyenne of food TV, auteur of the donut burger and voracious butter advocate has diabetes. Type 2, too, the one with all the stigma. The one that the food police think fatties and sweet tooths bring upon themselves. The lung cancer-esque one that summons no sympathy and is routinely used as the shock tactic to cajole dietary reform.

Health advocates have argued that Deen has pushed calorie-laden cuisine like some molasses-mouthed drug-dealer. That images of Deen deep-frying a turkey have proved too seductive for audiences to resist recreating her artery-clogging concoctions.

Diabetics have similarly dubbed her a hypocrite, somehow rationalising that every time she jovially fried a cheesecake she was playing havoc with how Americans processed insulin.

Frequently arrogant foodie Anthony Bourdain has even entered the fray, daring to dub Deen the “most dangerous person to America” and criticising her new drug company venture as her profiting from a problem she created.

Has the world gone mad?

Paula Deen is theatre. She’s delicious and decadent and each and every episode gifts audiences big-hearted portions of Southern comfort. This is her schtick. The idea that she is, or even should be, dispatching health advice is insanity. Her niche is butter, and butter it should remain, irrespective of her own blood-sugar levels.

People watch Paula because she is entertaining. Because she is histrionic and because she is passionate about food. People watch her because sometimes it’s just nice to rebel against the organic/quinoa-peddling/biodynamic/white-death food Nazis, even if only vicariously.

The concept of powerful media effects is notoriously fraught and relies on the flawed assumption that not only are all viewers half-wits, but half-wits who, in this case, consume Paula Deen in isolation from every other media and social influence.

Away from magazines and their endless supply of diet tips and bikini bodies.

Away from the procession of Biggest Loser/Excess Baggage boot camp/weight loss TV extravaganzas.

Away from current affairs shows reminding us nightly of all those foods that are going to kill us.

As nervous as absolutes make me, nobody is watching Paula Deen in a bubble. Nobody is thinking that Paula has the weight-loss silver bullet and nobody thinks she’s battering and powdered-sugaring her way to good health.

Paula Deen is an entertainer. Just because she has a high profile, just because she has Type 2 diabetes, shouldn’t compel her to rearrange her fabulously perverted version of the food pyramid. A public profile doesn’t mandate her to be yet another diet educator.

I love that she’s insane enough to make sandwiches from lasagna. I love that she tastes her own cooking and calls for the handcuffs because she knows she needs to be arrested. Most of all, I love that there is a delicious alternate to the barrage of food and lifestyle guilt-tripping slop that viewers are too often offered.

January 23, 2012

© Lauren Rosewarne

Original Source: The Conversation