01.18.12: On Paula Deen and Personal Responsibility

Folks sure are acting self-righteous about the whole “Paula Deen has Type II Diabetes” story.  The derisive snickers and the serves-her-right clucks have gotten on my last nerve, and it’s my turn to have a say.

After years of consuming the Western Diet (in which “fried” is a food group) and remaining largely sedentary, an American female over the age of 50 is diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.  Pardon me while I wipe the shocked sweat from my brow.  A new case of diabetes is diagnosed in the United States every 30 seconds.  This is not news.

Worldwide diagnoses of diabetes have more than doubled since 1980.  27 percent of Americans over the age of 65 have it.  35 percent of US adults age 20 or over have pre-diabetes.  She’s now at greater risk for kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, vision loss, hypertension, nervous system damage, and the flu.  Her risk of death is now double the risk of someone her age who does not have diabetes.  Not only is this not news, it’s also not funny.

I’ll grant you that there’s some irony in the Butter Queen getting diabetes.  But I won’t call it “poetic justice,” and I won’t say that she “deserved” it any more than I would say that any of my former clients who were diabetic “deserved” it.  Hardliners will pound their desks and holler that they brought it on themselves by making poor lifestyle choices.  They’ll also sniff that folks with AIDS brought it on themselves by not practicing safe sex, or the person who got in a car accident brought it on himself by texting while driving.[1]  Maybe, maybe not.  I’m not here to judge.  We make mistakes, we pay for them, and one hopes that we learn from them.  I wouldn’t appreciate a bunch of snarky jerks standing in self-satisfied judgment on me, and I’m not going to do it to someone else.

Live your life, learn your lessons, try to do better next time, move on.  I’m not afraid to take responsibility for my decisions – good and bad – and learn from them.  I guess I’m so mad at the people who are laughing at Paula, or pinning the blame for the obesity epidemic in the entire Western World on her, because the issue for me is responsibility.  Who’s responsible for you?  You are.  Not a celebrity.

Paula is not a doctor, and her TV-Land life is not a prescription.  She did not come to your house and force you to watch her shows and the shows of her sons, skipping your walk to catch one more rerun of “Paula’s Party.”  She did not force you to buy her cookbooks, shop for the ingredients, prepare the recipes, and eat them.  Every day.  Paula is not “promoting” a lifestyle, for God’s sake.  She’s not a gangsta rap performer glamorizing drive-bys, or a Norwegian Black Metal band encouraging people to burn churches.  She’s.  A.  Cook (Slash-Entertainer).  She discovered that she was good at cooking, and she liked it, and she could make a living doing it.  She built an empire of TV, books, magazines, lines of cookware, food products, and the buffet at Horseshoe Casinos.  Oh dear sweet Jesus, she’s promoting gambling AND saturated fat, now I’m totally in agreement with Anthony Bourdain that she’s the most dangerous person to America.

If she promotes any kind of lifestyle, it’s about keeping your family and friends close, spending time in the kitchen together, and sharing.  Insidious, I tell you.  Subversive.

But all that butter, you’re saying.  All that sugar, all that fried stuff!  How could she?  How dare she?  Well, Sandra Lee promotes drinking a lot of booze and building your meals around Lipton Onion Soup Mix and taco seasoning.  That’s offensive to lots of people – except the first part, I’m cool with the first part.  Emeril Lagasse never saw a bottle of olive oil (or bourbon) that he didn’t like.  Rachael Ray does pasta in every way imaginable.  There are entire shows on the Food Network devoted to cupcakes!  Are they all making us fat?  Give me a break!  Turn off the TV!

If you’re looking for the most dangerous person to America, now that Osama bin Laden is dead and all, may I suggest that you cast your eyes toward Ronald McDonald.  Paula Deen has a bunch of people over to eat biscuits and gravy: Ronald McDonald wants to see you and your family in his store, every single day.  You’d be there for every meal, if he had his way.  He wants your kids to have their birthday parties there.

Think on this: Paula wants you to buy her books and stuff, and watch her shows.  McDonald’s corporate goal is to grow to a point at which no American human is more than four minutes away from a McDonald’s.  They want it to be easier and faster to get to a McDonald’s than to a grocery store – or a library, or a museum, for that matter.  They market to your kids with movie tie-ins and the Play Place, they market to you with cheap prices and the perception of convenience.  To them, you are not a person.  You are a mouth and a “meal opportunity.”  From where I’m sitting, that’s more insidious and evil than a stick of butter in a casserole.  We should know better than to think we can eat like Paula cooks every day.  McDonald’s wants us to have no choice but to eat with them.  I came across many people in the health club who truly believed that they had no choice but to go through the drive-thru for dinner.  The marketing is more effective than we want to admit.

I highly doubt that a team sits at Paula Deen, Inc, coming up with sneaky new ways for Paula to infiltrate your everyday life.  They want to make a buck (or several million of them), but they don’t want your soul.  On the topic of bucks, it seems that Paula is parlaying her diagnosis into a deal with Novo Nordisk.  Bully for her.  I’d do it, too.  Also, based on the degree of non-compliance I saw among diabetics at the health club, I say that any additional voices for lifestyle change and adherence to the doctor’s plan are welcome.  Maybe they’ll listen to Paula, because they sure aren’t listening to their doctors (or their trainers).

If we’re looking for poetic justice in celebrities’ lives, I think it’s much more amusing that Jay-Z is the father of a wee baby girl, given the preponderance of references to bitches and hoes and whatnot in his lyrics.  See, that’s funny to me.  He’s having a paradigm shift.  Not a disease.

The upshot of my tirade is this: regardless of whose “fault” it is that you’re not where you want to be, you’re the only one who can change it.  Pointing fingers wastes valuable time and energy, and I hope you’re not the kind of person who feels better about himself when other people stumble.  Schadenfreude may be a human instinct, but don’t dwell in negativity.  Use your mistakes – and other people’s, like mine! – and make positive change that lasts.

Today is square one, friends.  Make it positive, make it better than yesterday.


[1] Worth noting: the second two examples are behaviors that can harm other people; diabetes is not analogous in that sense.

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