This week, foodies everywhere reacted to news that southern cooking star Paula Deen has type 2 diabetes. Reactions have been mostly derisive and unsurprised. Deen has built an empire off of butter and oil-laden southern cooking, and her unhealthy food has been parodied for years. She claims she’s always preached “moderation” and in the future the Deen machine will push “lighter” recipes.
As for Paula herself, she seems fine. She waiting years to tell anyone about her diabetes because she “had nothing to say,” so apparently the right time to reveal came once she had signed a new deal with a drug company and as her son began his own healthy food expose. She’s even beginning new initiatives to help reinvent the image of the increasingly common illness. But I’m not here to criticize her business strategy. In fact, diabetics may really benefit from more focused cooks for their diet. It makes the disease easier to bear. Though, Anthony Bordain may have a point.
Georgia chef Hugh Acheson of Top Chef fame lamented at just how far southern cooking has fallen as cheap, greasy-fried dishes fill southern diners and kitchens. Southern states easily fill most of the top 10 fattest states in America, with an over 30 percent obesity rate, and Acheson himself questioned whether refined, local and healthy southern cooking has been lost in a sea of butter and fat.
Deen suggests moderation is the key. Respectfully, I disagree. Southern cooking needs a culture change.
Burger King’s Tendercrisp chicken sandwich has 750 calories, 45 grams of fat and 1,560 mg of sodium. The smaller $1.00 alternative still has 460 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 810 mg of sodium. No matter how small you cut it, food like fried chicken is a veritable heart-stopper. It’s disgusting any way you look at it. The same goes for Paula’s deep fried mac and cheese. No amount of “moderation” will save you from this dish. It’s simply so outrageous and with so little redeeming quality, I’m having a hard time justifying its existence as a serious dish.
Why do we celebrate gorging ourselves on food challenges? Why are we so determined to make disgustingly excessive plates of fat and grease and playing with our food while other nations starve? When did the American palette become all about eating as much junk food as possible? The culture and pride of American cooking has become so lathered in butter, salt and grease that it seems impossible to imagine redeeming qualities when modern American cuisine comes to mind.
We in America have a rich food heritage of which we should be proud. From Cajun to Midwestern barbecue and, yes, even Southern cooking should be cherished and artful, unique in its mastery. It should not be fried, buttered, and greased to death. Maybe we should take this opportunity to examine the deeper problem here.