US cooking star Paula Deen, self-proclaimed “Queen of Southern Cuisine” famous for her dishes smothered in butter, has met a storm of outrage after revealing she has diabetes and is hawking a drug to treat the disease.
Deen, who famously showed off trademark high-fat, high-calorie meals including such creations as a hamburger wedged between a doughnut, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago — but continued her show on the Food Network promoting what critics slammed as an outrageously unhealthy diet.
Detractors have lambasted the jovial cooking host in a country that is battling an obesity epidemic. According to recent studies one-in-three adults in America are obese, as are one-in-six children — a grave, growing problem despite efforts to combat it with healthy eating campaigns.
Further sullying her image, however, 64-year-old Deen came out last month as a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk and its diabetes treatment Victoza, hawking the drug in a new campaign “Diabetes in a New Light.”
Fellow US cooking celebrity Anthony Bourdain, a chef and host of Travel Channel show “No Reservations,” took to Twitter to vent over Deen’s decision.
“Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later,” he quipped on the popular microblogging site.
Amid the US obesity crisis, Bourdain has laid into Deen before, due to her high-fat creations calling her “the worst, most dangerous person to America.”
Known as “The Lady,” Deen has become something of an institution for her heavy, no-apologies approach to cuisine, with a decade-long cooking show, 15 cookbooks, a well-known restaurant in Savannah, Georgia and a profitable lines of cooking wares sold in stores and online.
She has garnered a reputation for heavy, rich, fried southern dishes — cooking up a combination of almost anything with the most butter, cream, sugar.
On savory dishes, she famously piles high the meat, heavily salted, drawing accusations of being in cahoots with giant meat firms that have in turn been blamed for rising cases of diabetes in the United States in recent years.
Her move to join “big pharma” and tout a diabetes drug has caused an uproar, not least because US authorities had approved the treatment Victoza in January 2010 despite evidence of a link to thyroid cancer. It also costs hundreds of dollars a month, compared to similar, less expensive options.
“I am here today to let the world know that it is not a death sentence,” Deen said in announcing her diabetes diagnosis.
There was, however, little sympathy for her from fans and critics alike.
She had waited “three years before revealing she had developed diabetes — three years of serving up ever-more carb-and-fat laden meals, dragging her legions down with her. And then, voila! She has the “magic bullet,” ready for them to pop in their mouth,” wrote one outraged viewer on an Internet forum.
Those closest to her meanwhile reportedly jumped ship over her decision to campaign for the dubious diabetes drug — her publicist Nancy Assuncao Sanchez is said to have quit over the move.
Even her sons are apparently “furious” with her. The New York Post said Deen’s children Jamie and Bobby — the latter also hosts a cooking show called “Not My Mama’s Meals” — were worried that switching from a successful treatment to the new drug, for the sake of some millions of dollars in the endorsement deal, could endanger her health further.
Her defenders, however, pointed out the problem was not with Deen.
“She is not responsible for how people eat,” insisted one commentator Gary Finger, on a blog for USA Today, saying she was simply geared towards giving people what they already wanted.