Why Paula Deen Did the Right Thing

The hypocrisy police were out in force online yesterday, trying to portray Paula Deen as the poster child for unhealthy living in the wake of the butter goddess’ announcement that she was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes three years ago. Deen also revealed that she has teamed-up with drug-maker Novo Nordisk to promote healthy recipes for diabetics and pitch their diabetes drug (see: Diabetes in a New Light).

“Diabetic Scam Artists” was typical of the news and blog headlines screaming across the Web, as people lambasted Deen for “hiding” her condition in order to continue to peddle her high-fat, high-sugar treats on her food shows.

By dealing with a very personal matter and deciding to leverage her substantial media presence to help other diabetes sufferers, Deen should be considered the poster child for enjoying life in moderation, personal responsibility, and free enterprise – seemingly outrageous notions to Paula Deen’s competitors and opponents. I don’t recall hearing their hue and cry in the past over ads featuring blues legend B.B. King as a paid spokesman for diabetes tests.

From a PR perspective, there is one significant mistake Paula Deen did make in her announcement, and it is one of timing. She clearly should have made public her condition prior to announcing her deal with Novo Nordisk. While she should be able to set her own terms for how she publicly reveals her diagnosis, it was a big mistake to announce it at the same time that she has inked a deal to be a paid spokesman for a drug-maker.

The following link is a transcript and video of a live interview I conducted on the subject on HLN’s Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell: HLN Transcript, HLN Video. (While waiting to conduct my interview, I noted how CNN was running an ad for Novo Nordisk diabetes test kits.)

The way I see it, Paula Deen did the right thing for the following reasons:

  1. Deen has always been genuine and forthright – the source of her great brand: Deen has been forthright with her viewers that she features rich and delicious food. As a result, her fans trust her and relate to her as the “Queen of Cuisine” and a “southern mama.” Deen’s fans will, in turn, very likely trust her advice to take healthy steps in their lives if they suffer from diabetes.
  2. Deen has always advised her viewers to enjoy good food but in moderation: Deen has been quoted as saying, “Honey, I’m your cook, not your doctor. You’re going to have to be responsible for yourself,” in advising a balanced lifestyle.
  3. Deen encountered a dramatic change in her life and lifestyle because of diabetes: She is now using that experience and her media empire to help save lives. She has already begun to do so through Novo Nordisk’s website, which is promoting healthy recipes from Deen.

What Deen’s opponents are missing is that we live in a free-market, consumer-driven society. If you are concerned about the effect on your health caused by eating Whoppers, then do not order home delivery from Burger King (see: For $2 Burger King Will Come to You). If people are concerned about Paula Deen putting them at risk of diabetes, then they can choose to change the channel to “The Biggest Loser” or any number of related programs.

Paula Deen has taught people to enjoy life for a long time, and now she will use her extensive platform to teach many people to enjoy a longer, healthier life. The naysayers who are attacking her decision to team-up with Novo Nordisk three years after her diagnosis don’t know Deen and don’t know the very important principle of personal responsibility.

Photo Credit: TVWeek

3 Responses

  1. Patricia
    Well said. Deen should be lauded rather than criticized. She is working to help other utilizing her cause. There is great New York Times column that describes how Deen and all of the other Food TV chefs manage to maintain their health while eating calorie-laden meals. The fact is, a gourmet dinner by a French chef is actually filled with more calories than one of Deen's meals. She is both misrepresented and misunderstood and this is a wonderful opportunity to help others understand there is a balance between eating well and enjoying yourself.
  2. Brittany
    I agree as well. People should understand that they are responsible for their own choices. I saw the interview on HLN, and have to say that I completely disagree with Jane's position, calling the personal choice issue "a nice catch phrase", but basically stating that because people are "bombarded" with images of food that if could make them obese their personal choice is being taken away. If you ask me that is absurd to state. Too much of anything is bad for you, and people are absolutely responsible for their own choices. The only thing that can take away their choice are the consequences of their own choices.
  3. Cheryl Banks
    So true. Paula does love her butter but high saturated fat doesn't give you diabetes. It was a combination of genetics, being overweight, and eating too many simple sugars, although there are other risk factors for Type II diabetes. I grew up in the south so I know where Paula's coming from. Her comfort food was never intended to be eaten three times a day, 7 days a week. Can we can 'personal responsibility?' Are chefs now responsible for the health of others? Paula was doing a show that people wanted to watch. She was cooking what they wanted to see her cook. What they put in their mouth is their responsibility. There's an old adage, 'Never trust a skinny chef,' that goes back to the 1700s. Some of the most well-known chefs have carried some (or a lot) of extra weight. Dwight Eisenhower once said “The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.” Paula didn't lose her personal freedoms when she became a tv celebrity chef and had no obligation to talk about her personal health issues to her viewers. If someone has diabetes or any other health issue they should look at their own personal choices and health risks and take appropriate steps to modify their own behavior and stop playing the victim.