6:00 AM EST, January 23, 2012
Celebrity chefs have become a big business in recent years. Rare are the kitchen products, from pots and pans to garlic presses, that do not carry an endorsement from some chef with a cable television show and a chain of restaurants.
Paula Deen is just such a person and received considerable attention last week when it was revealed that she has had type 2 diabetes for the past three years. This would not be particularly notable — diabetes is on the rise in this country, with more than 25 million adults and children affected by it — except for one thing.
Ms. Deen isn't just another celebrity chef. She is an unabashed purveyor of high-fat, fried, salty (and often sugary) Southern cooking. She frequently tells her audience that one dish or another could be improved with a bit "more butter, y'all."
As an act, it can be very amusing. She's the queen of excess, the anti-PC former caterer from Georgia who hit it big on Food Network as counter-programming to the fine food (and high pretensions) of others on TV. Always upbeat and often joined on her show by her husband and sons, she's the poster child for a different era, when bacon, butter and deep-fried foods could be eaten guilt-free, particularly by the men she so obviously adores.
But in announcing her diabetes, she chose not to renounce those past three years she's been telling the world — and presumably that includes many with diabetes — to load up on fat and calories. That's not to suggest she doesn't see some intersection between her private and public lives (she's announced a deal to serve as a spokeswoman for Novo Nordisk, manufacturer of a diabetes drug that she reportedly takes), but apologetic for her cooking she is not.
We don't know what message Ms. Deen may offer as a Novo spokeswoman, but the public should know that type 2 diabetes is highly treatable — and even preventable — through lifestyle choices, including watching what one eats and exercising regularly.
This is a particularly important issue for a community such as Baltimore where, like most other parts of the country, the number of diabetes cases is growing. African-Americans are twice as likely to suffer from diabetes as whites, according to government health statistics.
In that regard, a far better example than Ms. Deen has been set by two of the city's more prominent pastors, the Rev. Jamal Bryant of Empowerment Temple and the Rev. Frank M. Reid III of Bethel AME, who have good-naturedly pitted themselves and their congregations against each other in a competition for weight loss and fitness. The competition was recently detailed by The Sun's Andrea Walker.
The only profit involved (aside from some motivational prizes) is the desire to see people live healthier and longer lives. Everyone wins when everyone loses weight, eats better and exercises more.
That Ms. Deen was willing to reveal her own medical condition is commendable. The public needs to learn more about diabetes and the risk the disease poses to adults and children alike. Left untreated, it can be deadly. But diabetes can also be managed and the health risks greatly lowered.
What is troubling, however, is that Ms. Deen wants to have her cake and deep fry it, too. Southern-style cooking doesn't require some of the egregious food and preparation choices that many of her recipes promote (her bacon cheeseburger meatloaf among the long list of offenders).
In order to embrace a different future, the 65-year-old chef needs to, at least to some degree, renounce the excesses of her past. She owes that not only to her public but to herself.
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