Portly Paula Deen, the doyenne of sumptuous Southern cooking served in heaps, went on the “Today” show yesterday morning and revealed that she’d waited three years to reveal that she has Type 2 diabetes because she wanted to have a plan of action in place before she did. Within a minute of admitting to Al Roker that long-circulating rumors about her health are true, she was referring viewers to Novo Nordisk’s “Diabetes in a New Light” website.
Novo Nordisk markets diabetes drugs such as NovoLog and Victoza, which Deen is promoting directly as a paid spokeswomen for a new marketing campaign that will “help you manage every day of your life,” she says.
Tellingly, the “Bites on Today” story on MSNBC carries the headline “Paula Deen: Diabetes diagnosis won't change how I cook.” When asked whether her show, “Paula’s Best Dishes,” was going to offer different fare, Deen “didn't give a direct answer, instead encouraging viewers to practice moderation,” writes Vidya Rao.
“Here’s the thing, you know, I’ve always encouraged moderation,” Deen tells Roker. “On my show, you know, I share with you all these yummy, fattening recipes, but I tell people 'in moderation... You can have that little piece of pie ...'"
Roker brought in Roshini Raj, M.D. to the discussion, who agreed that there was no simple answer to what causes diabetes but she said that environmental factors such as diet and lack of exercise trump genetics and age. “Being overweight, in particular, is probably the most defined risk factor,” she says.
Claws were out even before yesterday’s revelation, but Deen immediately came under renewed attack. Her “decision to become a pitchwoman for a diabetes drug is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Madison Avenue branding experts,” Suzanne Vranica reports in the Wall Street Journal atop a hed that claims “Paula Deen Pitch Hard to Swallow.”
Sources tell Vranica that Deen is sending a confusing message. “Her brand is all about ‘rich, tasty and decadent eating’ but now she is supposed to be about ‘eating healthy and low fat,’ said Allen Adamson, managing director of Landor New York, a branding firm owned by WPP PLC. ‘It's a big change to expect consumers to buy into.’”
But there is also a backlash of support for Deen. I first learned of Deen’s “Today” appearance through a Facebook post that pointed out that she has been cooking with butter since forever and “everyone loved it.” Now that she’s told the world she has diabetes, “she's the bad girl, evil, the villain. Nobody has to eat her cooking if they don't want to. Nor do they have to buy her books,” my friend writes.
In USA Today, Nanci Hellmich writes that Deen is spreading “the word about diabetes in a down-home manner” and that she’s ready for any criticism or barbs that come her way.
"I don't care what the haters and naysayers say,” Deen says. “If they make jokes about me, I'll laugh because they'll probably be funny."
"By telling her story, Paula is showing that diabetes can affect people from all walks of life," Geralyn Spollett, president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association, tells Hellmich. That may “give people hope and perhaps motivate them to take care of themselves.”
Other sources around the net echo the sentiment that Deen is not holding a rolling pin over anyone’s head and forcing them to eat her fare.
“If Deen’s become rich showing Americans how to consume as much butterfat as possible, is that Deen’s fault?” John Birdsall blogs on Chow.com. “Last time I checked, cooking shows were entertainment -- what social critics call “aspirational” -- not the mandatory curriculum for home ec class.”
Julia Moskin writes in the New York Times that Deen’s announcement, was “delivered with the liveliness of the head cheerleader she was” and “testified to her savvy as an up-from-the-roots businesswoman, turning a setback into a fresh opportunity with a series of news media appearances that played out through the day.”
Andrew Essex, head of the New York marketing agency Droga5, tells Moskin that “Deen’s bid for transformation” is “ambitious.”
“There’s no question that she was the face of a certain kind of egregious indulgence,” Andrew Essex, head of Droga5, tells Moskin. “If she can now become the face of healthy living, it will be a Gatsby-esque turnaround.”
Now this is where I’d usually turn to Wikipedia to check on the use of Gatsby-esque because, as I remember the story, it doesn’t turn out all that well for Gatsby. Wikipedia is dark today, however -- another story in the headlines that’s worth a few minutes of your time.