Jul 2, 201309:28 AM
The Lighter Side

Exploring the humor and peculiarities of the Big Easy

The Paula Deen Conundrum

Paula Deen

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As I was watching the news yesterday, I saw a scroll on the bottom of the TV screen saying that QVC had broken ties with Paula Deen. As someone who loves to cook and has followed chefs and their shows/books/etc. like I follow my favorite rock stars, I've been thinking quite a bit about this whole Paula Deen conundrum. And I've come to the conclusion that right now, in America, there are two kinds of people: The people who are saying "good riddance" and the people who think we're all being really mean and unfair to our collective southern grandma.

 

The "grandma" aspect is part of the problem. We think of her as "America's southern grandma," and some folks are taking her fall from grace very personally. Because she's on TV cooking our own grandma's favorite dishes, and because we associate food so much with memories and nostalgia, I think some of us actually see her as being part of the family. Which is why this is hitting people, especially people here in the South, so hard. The South is proud of its heroes and doesn't take too well to people calling them names. And hey, I understand that, but in this case, I think it might be best if we just let go. At least for now.

 

I used to be a fan, I'll admit it. I loved Paula Deen and watched every episode of her first few seasons on the Food Network. I loved her because she – which I'm sure is the same with millions of other Americans – cooked the kind of food that my grandmother cooked, which was near and dear to my heart. After my grandmother was too sick to cook much anymore, I wanted to make sure that I had all her recipes down so that I'd never forget them. And now that she's passed away, I'll make pot roast or stuffed peppers the way she did, or use her tricks for perfect mashed potatoes to feel like I was back in the kitchen with her.

 

Paula made the same kinds of pies and the same kinds of vegetables that my grandma did (i.e. the starchy ones), and she also used real butter, like my grandma did in the '80s when everyone else used that damn margarine.

 

I've also brought a few dishes made from Paula's recipes to parties that have been devoured and raved about. There were the "chocolate peanut butter gooey butter cakes" that inspired a few guys to beg me to go out with them back in the day. And then there's her grits recipe, which I still use when I haven't been to the grocery store in forever and all I have in my kitchen is a bag of corn grits and maybe a few raisins. But it's more of a ratio than a recipe.

 

She also kind of influenced my "kitchen speech" because I swear I can't say "spatula" anymore. I automatically say "spatular," mainly because I think it sounds cool, like a kitchen tool you'd use in space. 

 

But for the most part, I've been over Paul Deen for a while now. Especially as she became less of a relatable southern home cook and more of a cringe-inducing caricature of her former self. Overexposed. Over-saturated. Her face used to schlep everything like pots and pans, processed Walmart cakes, Smithfield ham and their questionable practices, as well as custom eyeglasses and bedroom furniture, of all things. And she finally totally lost me as a fan when after years of promoting ungodly amounts of sugar and butter in her recipes, she came out as being a diabetic. And it wasn't even the fact that she was a diabetic and still put a pound of powdered sugar in most of her food for the camera, but the fact that she had kept quiet about it for so long and only went public after endorsing a diabetes drug. That was it. I was done.

 

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago and the debate about her use of that word kind of blew up. After reading many a comment section on articles about the scandal (and the subsequent time I spent in a corner rocking myself back and forth) here are a few of the conclusions that I've come to:

 

1. The media isn't doing a very good job at telling the whole story. They have boiled the whole thing down to her use of a racial slur long ago. It's so much more than that. If you're going to go on a Facebook tirade about the Food Network firing a sweet old lady who used the "N" word 20 years ago, then do everyone a favor and read a little further.

 

2. Paula Deen might remind you of your grandma, but she's not actually your grandma. Paula Deen is a gazillionaire and she's going to be okay.

 

3. The old stock-excuse for using racial slurs because "they were from a different time" is not going to cut it anymore. It's going the way of the Dodo.

 

And in closing, if you haven't read it yet, I urge you to read An Open Letter to Paula Deen by Michael W. Twitty, a culinary historian who writes a pretty fascinating blog about the origins of southern food. It's honest and sincere and not a bit mean-spirited, which is quite a relief after everything I've read on the subject.

Reader Comments:
Jul 2, 2013 11:28 am
 Posted by  evadland

Good article!! I, personally, am tired of every celebrity who feels the need to apologize every time they miss-speak or when they say something stupid!!! Here's a phrase they all need to learn to say, "I am not brilliant and sometimes I say very stupid and hurtful things! I am human and therefore flawed! Get over it!" Then they should refuse to discuss the issue with anyone ever again. BTW, I haven't seen the witness in the Trevon Martin case apologize for saying that " creepy-ass cracker" is not a racist term!! Oh wait, I forgot, she has no financial loss that could occur due to her personal assessment of this racially derogatory term for caucasians. So really it's all about the money or popularity when you are famous ?!?! Hmmmm?

Jul 2, 2013 11:54 am
 Posted by  swimp lover in Utah

I lost my interest in Paula Deen years ago as well. Oversaturated to say the least and she lost some of that genuine folksy aura that surely attracted many to her original show. Yes, the media has sold the story short of what the law suit is truly about...but I suppose all the details will come out sooner or later.

Jul 2, 2013 01:20 pm
 Posted by  ozrkmtndd

Really? I hope that you are just as harsh with yourself one day when you make a mistake: and you will. And I hope those around you can forgive you for your transgressions.

Jul 2, 2013 01:34 pm
 Posted by  Billsd

This is the unfortunately all too common reaction to a celebrity using a derogatory word about some minority in this country. Violate the politically correct speech laws and instantly the Speech Gestapo comes crashing in and throw you under the bus. Total destruction, go down in a firestorm of hatred. This sort of reaction is totally counterproductive. Instead of creating an atmosphere of acceptance of minorities, it creates even greater division and increases the hatred. Gun sales go through the roof. This may sound ridiculous but when these vicious politically correct attacks occur, gun sales actually shoot up. The Trevon Martin case is being celebrated by every gun shop owner in the U.S., not just here in Louisiana but everywhere in the U.S. Paula Deen is probably good for at least a thousand guns and a million rounds of ammo alone. Everything going on here is bass ackwards as my grandmother used to say. It is OK to screw over a minority (think Cash Cow Payday Loan Shops in black neighborhoods) but not OK to diss them. This country is built on the backs of minority wage slaves. This PC crap is nothing but a feel good band aid over a pustular sore of economic slavery against blacks, hispanics, asians, jews, muslims, gays and even Catholics and women. It is OK to screw blacks but call them a nigger and YOU are screwed. There is a simple way to handle something like Paula Deen. This will reduce hatred and divisiveness and help the offended minority. It will send a positive message instead. EVERYTHING IS ABOUT MONEY...MONEY...MONEY. What you do is if a celebrity commits a PC violation they would be forced to donate a percentage of their income/royalties to a support charity for the offended minority. Use the N word, 10% of your book royalties and TV income would go the NAACP. Use the F word, pay up to PFLAG. Rapper? Use the C word and you would pay also. It would only be fair for ALL of us to pay for our hatred of others.

Jul 2, 2013 04:04 pm
 Posted by  paparoux

Bill SD, good ideas. I venture to say that anyone over a certain age in the south has uttered the N word because that's the way we were raised. It's not a good thing, but it's just a fact. Why someone should be vilified for being a saying a racist word in the long-distant past is totally ridiculous. The word is not OK, for sure. I do think that everybody will get over and poor little P-awl-a will survive just fine.
You can tell that little Annie is a youngster (if she's a blogger, she must be) because she comes from a different world. Sweetie, we're trying to be "post-modern," but the past is the past, and people used those words in the South (maybe not in Columbus, but then in Ohio you didn't have the same racial issues that us Southerners did). Unfortunately, we folk who were brought up in a racially-divided world we're still alive and kicking and have not yet done the way of the dodo. We know it was wrong; old habits die hard, but they do die. You have to cut your elders (and wisers) a little slack. One day *you too* will be an old fart and you will have said or done something you thought was just fine (and later regretted) and some little blogger whippersnapper will jump all over your butt for saying it. I guarantee it. So watch who you criticize.

Jul 2, 2013 07:23 pm
 Posted by  AnnieD

Thanks for your thoughtful responses. I very much appreciate everyone taking the time to read my post even if you don't agree with me ;-)

- Annie

Jul 3, 2013 09:33 am
 Posted by  Shores of Lake P

What I think that some of you are failing to understand or accept is that the repeated, casual, common-place use of the n-word in earlier decades still has serious ramifications today. It promoted and has perpetrated a social environment where it is okay to view a black person as "less than;" and for sure it had an impact on the lives of the older members of my family, whose lives mattered then just as much as mine does today. So yes, I do question anyone who used that word as a racial slur in the past, because it DOES affect my life today, in the way that people conceptualize me, and relate to me, when I date a person of a particular skin color that is different than mine, or apply for a job in certain offices, or walk down the street and still get looks, despite my education and how I present myself. [Incurious and uninformed person will reply "how is your life affected from things said in the 1950s" in 3, 2, 1 ...] So no .. it's not something we should just gloss over and say, "Who cares?" Easy for you to say that. Frankly, I think saying "it was common awhile ago" and "who cares" is really a rationalization that prevents us from honestly criticizing, thinking poorly of, and questioning those of us in our own families who used the words commonly, and were never really held to account for promoting that social toxicity.

Of course, as the author properly points out, this is a larger deal than Paula Deen using a word nearly 30 years ago. If you think she used that word once in the 1980s but never again, I've got some oceanfront property in Nebraska that I need you to come buy. Overall, this isn't the biggest problem in America. I'd happy forget about her if we would honestly address preventative health and economic disparities along racial lines in this country. But people who brush off the issue of what was said in the past as being trivial aren't helping. They still don't get it.

Jul 3, 2013 09:36 am
 Posted by  Shores of Lake P

Also, along those lines, why is it that we need so badly to suggest where others are wrong, in order for us to accept where we are wrong? If Paula Deen is wrong, she is wrong. Accept it. Full stop.

Jul 12, 2013 03:21 pm
 Posted by  makeroux

Bravo, Annie! You totally nailed it. I have heard so many people say, "Poor Paula." But, Paula is a public figure and should know how to carry herself. When she first surfaced on Food Network, I liked her for the same reasons you did. However, I changed my mind once I saw her drink melted butter just for the hell of it. Both of my Southern grandmas used butter, too, but they'd have never pulled a stunt like drinking butter OR using -that- word!

Jul 16, 2013 02:38 pm
 Posted by  BRICH504

Great article. One note. If you plan on using Yiddish words in your article, at least use them properly. Schlep is a word describing carrying or moving physically. Doesn't really apply to endorsing products to "move". Just saying.

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The Lighter Side

Exploring the humor and peculiarities of the Big Easy

about

Annie Drummond is a graphic designer and artist from Columbus, Ohio. She has a degree from the Columbus College of Art & Design. Two years ago she made the move from the Midwest to New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood and fell deeply in love as she discovered the rhythms and traditions of her new city. In addition to The Lighter Side, she writes about food, art and design (and other stuff) at www.AnniedelaDolce.com.

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