Discuss: As Smooth as Butter

Jan 20, 2012

When I first moved to Washington, D.C., I started reading a fashion and beauty blog called Capitol Hill Barbie.  I was obsessed. Then, Barbie got married, had a baby and moved to the Big Apple.  Now, Barbie brings style and wit to motherhood at her new blog, Baby Steps in Heels.  So when she asked me on Twitter, if she could write today’s Discuss column, I immediately agreed.  Please enjoy this guest post, and as always, leave your thoughts in the comments.  xoxo Belle

Before I go on my rant, I’d like to thank Belle for allowing me this space to vent.  I always read her “Discuss” columns with great interest and I appreciate that she uses her blog to foster discussion on issues beyond Ugg boots and Vera Bradley (because really? what is there to discuss? ICK.) So, here it goes.  

Earlier this week, amid much speculation in the food-blogosphere, Food Network’s Paula Deen announced that she has Type II diabetes and is currently endorsing Victoza, a newish drug from the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. In fact, she was actually diagnosed with diabetes three years ago, but is only coming forward now with this spokesmanship.  As I sat on the floor watching my child play and listened to her talk on The Today Show about how she was helping people understand that diabetes is not a death sentence, I just got angrier and angrier.

Actually, at one point I swore so loudly that the baby took a break from her Mozart Music Cube to look at me with surprise.

I have worked in both health and food policy, so I am familiar with both diabetes and drug companies.  Type II diabetes is an incredibly insidious disease.  It has effects on multiple organ systems and makes treating even the simplest medical problem more difficult.  There are many contributing factors to someone developing the disease, as Deen indicates, such as family history, age and lifestyle.  But a HUGE factor in developing and managing diabetes is diet and exercise.

Paula Deen spoke on the Today Show about how she has “always” encouraged moderation when it comes to her food.  This is a woman who gleefully peddles deep fried butter and a hamburger sandwiched in between two doughnuts on her shows.  That, to me, leaves no room for moderation.  It’s edged out by the number of points your blood sugar went up just looking at that

My main problem with Paula Deen is that she is making money at both ends simultaneously.She exalts fat and sugar laden foods on her shows and through her endorsement deals, but then also shills for a drug that treats the problem the fatty and sugary foods cause and/or exacerbate.  Then she goes on TV and tells people that diabetes is not a punishment and that she (and her drug that costs $500 a month) will be there for them.

She shows no sign of changing her cooking shows to reflect the lighter recipes or acknowledge that her endocrinologist would pass out if she ate the foods she cooked.  But!  Eat them! Then take this drug I endorse that may improve blood glucose levels with diet and exercise (even though diet and exercise are often credited with that on their own). Oh, BTW, it’s also linked to a pretty severe form of thyroid cancer and pancreatitis. Don’t worry, I’m profiting from everything.

I’m not faulting Deen for not releasing her medical information three years ago, I believe very strongly in privacy of health information.  I’m not even really faulting her for endorsing a diabetes drug.  I’m faulting her for being totally unrepentant about putting her own financial gain above anything else.  

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  1. E says:

    I agree with J, I would have been happier if the post had focused on the truth about diabetes and how to live a happy lifestyle, unlike what Paula Dean is advocating. As a type 1 diabetic and a very active (skinny) person, I get very tired of being grouped in with “lazy fat diabetics,” I didn't cause my diabetes, I don't have a cure, If I lose weight…..I'll still have diabetes, and I will take 8 insulin injections per day until there is a cure. I'm tired of diabetes being a joke to other people, it's serious to me.

  2. CAM says:

    Thanks you! I have a family member with diabetes. He does absolutely everything right- daily exercise, checking his blood sugar and very moderate eating habits. I just find Paula Deen to be so incredibly irresponsible, especially considering what an opportunity she had to reach people who haven't been making the right choices with diabetes.

  3. cg says:

    Thank you for starting this discussion. I have always felt disgusted by Paula Deen (both her and her show) but always demurred voicing my thoughts to family/friends because I was afraid it would come across as criticism of southern cooking itself, rather than Paula's take on it. I am glad to hear that her choices are being questioned by the blogosphere and I hope Food Network considers pulling her show off air

  4. Mrs Ward says:

    I totally agree with you! Both my mother and father have diabetes. My father pasted away from it in 2001. My mother often struggles with everyday situations. Going out to run errands could turn into a scary situation. She always has to make sure she has something to eat right away incase she “crashes”. My step father always tells her that she does it to herself, she's not excersising right, thats she's eating the wrong things…etc. You don't know what its like till you have the disease! She does her best to maintain it without drugs. Im super proud of her and her strength. Thank you for your post!

  5. Anie says:

    I am in 100% agreement. I am the daughter of two diabetics (one a brittle type I diabetic who has had a heart attack and lost a leg thanks to diabetes, among other complications), and so I find her public behavior here quite off-putting. Diabetes might not be a `death sentence'—sure, it's not pancreatic cancer. But it WILL cause problems, and it will NOT go away. Diabetes doesn't just `disappear'. You have to manage it. Part of that will be drugs, sure. But a key part of managing it will always be through diet and exercise, for both type I and II diabetics. And just gleefully endorsing foods so laden with sugar that even our culture finds them ridiculous—ugh. Undoubtedly many of her viewers are facing the same challenge: a late-life diagnosis of type II diabetes, due at least partially to and aggravated by lifestyle. How about helping those viewers find delicious alternatives to unhealthy foods? She has a fantastic platform to help people from, if she'd let go of what looks a lot like an overdose of pride and stubbornness.

  6. EAC says:

    I am a bit of a self professed “foodie”. I follow a few shows on both the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. I also have a large collection of cookbooks and cook for myself and friends on a regular basis. I view the cooking shows for entertainment purposes only. My cookbooks have lots of recipes for dishes that would be considered “unhealthy” if I made a steady diet of them. Ultimately, it is MY decision as to what to cook and eat and it is MY decision to make it a point to get up and make it to the gym every morning. If I can manage to tweak recipes to reduce fat and sugar, or to eat larger portions of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains and smaller portions of “splurge” dishes, why can't others do the same? To blame Paula Deen, Bobby Flay or Anthony Bourdain for your poor dietary choices and lack of excercise is just crazy.

    All of this whining about Paula Deen is much like smokers blaming the Malboro Man for their smoking related illnesses. Let's stop blaming other people for our poor choices.

  7. Amy says:

    You wrote the op ed I would've written had I sat down and committed to writing it. I feel there is such a terrible conflict of interest here. Food Network should end her show so long as she is peddling this drug. It's just icky.

  8. RMS says:

    To EAC – I agree with you about diet being a personal choice and we shouldn't blame celebrities for our choices. However, your comparison of Paula Deen to the Marlboro Man only makes sense if the Marlboro Man also pitched for a medication to treat lung cancer. It is the conflict of interest that is getting people upset about Paula Deen.

  9. CynthiaW says:

    I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who has a distinct lack of sympathy for her position and is appalled that she's using a condition (that her lifestyle is largely responsible for) to shill for a drug company instead of pushing for a healthier lifestyle.

    Kind of makes Anthony Bourdain look like less of a jerk.

  10. CynthiaW says:

    And, yes, people are ultimately responsible for their own choices – I've never once cooked or eaten anything that she makes because I can feel my arteries hardening just watching the show and most of it just looks disgustingly unhealthy. However, her hypocrisy is appalling – and her advocating a drug that has serious side-effect and profiting from that instead of pushing for people to modify their lifestyles is revolting.

    Plus, I'm all for medical privacy – but she continued to push her unhealthy food on the Food Network for the last three years, knowing how irresponsible it is.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Good post, I fully agree. I have been really disappointed by the way she has chosen to handle this situation. I think she had a tremendous opportunity to play an important role in shaping the food/health policy dialogue, and I find her lack of accountability alarming. I also agree with the conflict of interest comments, I don't see how she can endorse such opposing views.

  12. EAC says:

    @RMS, I see your point. I was reacting more to the touting of an unhealthy diet more than to her drug endorsement. Paula Deen (and her sons) are a business empire, they have endorsements up the yazoo. They are going to ride that money train as long as they can. If they and their management team don't see a conflict of interest—-I just have to shake my head on that issue. One of her sons has a show that focuses on a healthier counterpoint to her style of cooking, so maybe that is their attempt to cool the flames.

  13. ShootingTheMessenger says:

    I come at this from a different perspective. Paula Deen can make money however she wants, and more power to her and her agent if they can make it coming and going. Whenever I see a celebrity endorsing anything (cooking show, drug product, exercise regimen – doesn't matter), I'm always skeptical. They're paid to read the lines placed in front of them to peddle whatever they're selling. It's my job to use my brain and think about whether or not I want to put my money towards whatever product/lifestyle/vision that may be.

    I do think this is an incredibly risky (or even misguided) decision by Novo Nordisk. They're a diabetes company. If this has a negative PR blowback, which comments to this post and other articles indicate, it doesn't just impact this one product — it is risks their entire portfolio of products, which all treat the same disease. This could be a tragically bad call by the Novo team.

  14. L says:

    As a Savannahian I am embarrassed by her. Her “add a stick of butter” approach was funny for a while but gets old when someone is morbidly obese and now suffering from a serious illness. I wish that she was supporting a cause that supported a healthy lifestyle instead of a pharmaceutical company.

    FYI – Her restaurants have never been anything special…

  15. amy b.s. says:

    i completely agree with this. i have a real problem when celebrities go on a talk show or something and relay medical information about something that is going on in their lives and the show doesn't even bother to have a certified expert on the subject to either support what they are saying or dispute it. it seems like a celebrity says it, so it's okay. even if it's not right. or healthy in this case. it's another disappointing fact of our society.

  16. Evi says:

    I wholeheartedly agree! I can't believe that she things she's helping people by advertising this (expensive) drug and not sharing other ways to live with diabetes. I never really enjoyed her shows from the beginning (food was not my style) but even, I will not be supportive!

  17. :( says:

    I am very disappointed in this bitter rant and the fact that you are raging about an accomplished woman who is being supportive of people with a painful disease. Though she may not eat the healthiest food, that is HER business, not YOURS. I hope that if you ever come down with a disease, that you are treated with compassion, and not lambasted for what you may have done to contribute to your condition.

  18. Victoria says:

    I really appreciate this commentary, particularly its focus on calling out the hypocrisy of working both ends of this issue. I've been disappointed in most of the public reaction to Paula Deen's disclosure – I think, frankly, that most of the outrage stems from discomfort (or hatred) people have of fat people. Do you think we'd all be having the same response if Paula Deen were thin? I doubt it. I think there's a lot of schadenfreude (“told you so!”) in the reactions I've been reading.

  19. jen says:

    Do I think Paula Deen is profiting (at least somewhat) at both ends for unhealthy eating? Yes. But I don't really give a hoot how she chooses to make her money, or the lifestyle choices she makes to get there. If people are looking to entertainment personalities to guide them on choices that dramatically impact their personal welfare (ahem, Kim Kardashian), then they need to find better role models.

    And where is my post-lunch fashion, makeup, skincare, acceessory, etc. update? I'd have gone elsewhere if this is what I wanted to read about.

  20. MA says:

    As a primary care doctor, the bulk of patients that I see each day suffer from conditions they (sometimes inadvertently, sometimes overtly) caused themselves. My practice is not in the business of judging, but rather treating and educating. So often, health issues are like a Polaroid picture—the damage is done in your 20s / 30s / 40s but doesn't “shake out” till your 50s and 60s. That being said, we now know that obesity, poor dietary choices and lack of exercise all are risk factors for developing Type II diabetes (which is what PD has and what Victoza treats). It upsets me that she says that diabetes is not a “death sentence” because, for many patients, it is, whether from a heart attack, kidney failure or multiple amputations. It is also upsetting to me that she is playing into our societal belief that we can do whatever we want and then just take a pill to fix it. I'm here to tell you that, no, you can't! A newly-diagnosed diabetic will be on a minimum of four (!) new pills to try to mitigate the damage of high sugars and in no way do these do a better job than a health, functioning pancreas.

    Paula Deen is certainly not responsible for the health and well-being of all diabetics, but her show and her opinions fall into the “garbage in, garbage out” category for me.

  21. meg says:


    rather than be snarky about a lack of 'ost-lunch fashion, makeup, skincare, acceessory, etc. update', why don't you start your own blog?

  22. DC says:

    Thank you for this post! As a former American Diabetes Association policy staffer and now a health LA on the hill, this type of behavior from Paula Deen is absolutely unacceptable.

  23. L says:

    Wonderful post! It makes me sad that people like Paula Deen are able to jeopardize people's health only to milk the system further on the backend.

    This IS different then your typical “celebrity” deal. Clothing and 72 day marriages are one thing, but putting people's health in jeopardy and then lying about your intent so you can sign another deal, is a whole new low.

  24. XR says:

    Oh my gosh, this has been enraging me since I watched the segment on TODAY. It is true that for Ms. Deen, diabetes is not a death sentence. As a wealthy American, she has access to the best healthcare and resources that are available. Whether or not you agree with if that's right or wrong, it's absolutely true that most people who develop Type 2 do NOT have the same kinds of access to the kind of care that is afforded to her. For many, it IS a death sentence and those who are uninsured, underinsured, or who face high out-of-pocket drug costs won't be able to afford the expensive brand-name drug she's shilling.

    While I do agree that personal responsibility plays a role in our diets and lifestyle choices, and while I also agree that what others (including Deen) choose to do or not do is generally nobody's business but their own, diabetes is actually EVERYBODY'S business. Our country is facing an epidemic of skyrocketing healthcare costs, and Type 2 diabetes is growing so fast that healthcare and policy professionals are warning of its effect on our health systems and its fiscal ramifications for our budgets. Even if you do everything right in your lifestyle choices, you're still paying for the costs of things like diabetes (and smoking!) through higher insurance premiums (in the private market as well as in public programs like Medicare). So yeah, it IS our business if we're all paying for it. High overall health care costs are threatening businesses and federal and state budgets, which means less we can devote to defense, education, the environment, or anything else we think is worth our tax dollars!

    I am glad that Paula Deen has come out with her diagnosis, since it gives us an avenue to discuss such an important topic facing our country right now. I'm just disappointed in her decision to use her celebrity capital to benefit herself and a pharmaceutical company.

  25. ShootingTheMessenger says:

    @L and @XR:

    What is Paula Deen lying about? She wasn't forcing anyone to watch her show, make the food, or pick up the fork. Type II diabetics (and smokers, and sunbathers and alchoholics and…) have made life choices that cost the rest of us a lot of money. The cheapest option would be for doctors to ignore them and pharma manufacturers to only focus on creating drugs for “real” diseases that aren't caused by lifestyle choices. Is that really what you're arguing for? Because that's the logical conclusion of your argument.

    The angst that everyone is feeling seems to relate to Paula Deen's message of — “yep, cook like me, get a totally preventable disease, and then take a pill to treat it!” I'm amazed she would put herself in that position, but that's her choice, and I don't fault that. A savvy businesslady. I'm more amazed that Novo Nordisk would sign itself up for this criticism. Pharma companies already have enough reputational issues despite the wonderful things they do to prevent, treat and cure diseases. Total palm-to-forehead when they do numbskull contracts like this and then whine about how nobody understands the value of their drugs.

  26. EAC says:

    Belle, one question. Why did Barbie want to post this on your blog, instead of addressing this issue on her own blog?

  27. Artemisia says:

    Great guest post. I like some intelligent commentary with my fashion advice!

    I agree with you, Barbie, except I judge her not only for the hypocrisy but for her contribution to normalizing an unhealthy, high-fat diet. I don't care about her weight – it's become pretty clear that people can be heavy and healthy at the same time. Not eating like Paula Deen, though.

    I don't watch cooking shows, but I know lots of intelligent people who do. Does she believe her audience won't be repelled by the undisguised greed and sleezy hypocrisy?

    The question I'm really scared to ask is, is she right to think they won't?

  28. AnnR says:

    It's not what I'd want for myself but I know plenty of people who have similar attitudes. I don't see a reason to be angry about it. She'll reap what she sows. It's not just lifestyle it's genetics as well. I can't rant about diabetics who don't pursue the lifestyle changes running up the national health bill because when I had breast cancer I helped run the bill up myself.

    These diseases are often a combination of genetics and lifestyle and people have different ideas about how much their lifestyle contributes.

    As a breast cancer survivor I get tired of the way people want to blame the patient for disease. The media is constantly telling us that this or that will prevent disease, yet people who've done all the right things still get it.

  29. Belle says:

    EAC: No idea.

  30. J says:

    There's a strong correlation between diabetes and diet and weight but it's not causation. I have Type II because I had gestational diabetes with each of my pregnancies, all kids over 9 lbs by the way. I'm physically fit, right at the “proper” BMI, and ran a 5K 2 weeks ago. I wish you had used Paula Deen's announcement as a way to mention to all working women that we could be at risk for diabetes and that our diet won't always save us but instead you wanted to make this about fat shaming and I'm disappointed. Doctors dismissed my symptoms because I was skinny and I have permanent damage as a result. The comments here from people who declare themselves medical or diabetes non-profit professionals make me wonder if they aren't missing other cases or awareness campaign chances as well.

  31. CynthiaW says:

    I don't think that anyone was “fat shaming” Paula Deen – there were even people who mentioned the fact that you can be heavy and healthy. What has been focused on is her absolutely unhealthy methods of food preparation – which she continued to propagate for THREE YEARS after being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. Why didn't she come out with this information before? Oh, that's right, because she wasn't shilling for a drug company then. It's completely irresponsible – she has the right to make her money however she wants, but I have the right to disagree with it and refuse to support her efforts.

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