I was born and raised in the South. If it wasn’t for my husband’s military career, I would be there now. I ache for it. It’s in my blood and soul, just like SEC football (War Eagle!). I grew up in a small town south of Nashville. I grew up on my fair share of fried chicken, casseroles, barbecue, biscuits, gravy, mashed potatoes, pecan pies, peach cobblers, and sweet tea. Our food is our culture. It’s part of who we are. If you come for a visit, you will see why it is so beloved. It’s also one of the reasons I became a dietitian.
To be honest, I am worn out of hearing about Paula Deen and her diabetes. Although, it has been interesting to hear all the opinions this week. What I am the most surprised by is the intense anger. I think I have read more blog posts and articles that demonize her or tell her to get a dietitian than I care to read. I like Paula Deen. I love her warm, enduring personality, and love of food, friends and family. That is a true Southern trait you just can’t duplicate. It’s the reason many people love her. I am sure her friends have shown up this week with food and tissues to help her through this controversy. See in the South, if you are in crisis, we show up. We shut out the naysayers, and we protect our own. You can come guns blazing with criticism but in the end, we love our people . I guess I feel more protective because I have many “Paula Deen” women in my life that I love dearly. They would never do anything out of pure greed but they would do anything to help their neighbor. Can I speak for Paula Deen? No, but part of my Southern upbringing is believing the best in people before you start judging them. Does that mean she shouldn’t be responsible? No, she should, especially is she is a spokesperson for a diabetes drug. This is what I think people are missing in all this:
1. She is bringing attention to diabetes. She didn’t have to say a word but she chose to be a voice.
2. She is changing her recipes, thus the new website with Novo Nordisk.
3. Don’t you think her son’s new show, “Not My Mama’s Meals” was a strategic primer for this announcement? Yes, more change.
4. She wants to do better. She quit sweet tea. That is saying a lot for a Southern belle. She is also exercising which is a positive example.
5. She isn’t a health care professional. She’s a down home cook from Georgia.
6. We don’t know what her doctor told her or her plan of care. Frankly, that is none of my business.
7. She just brought Southern food into laser beam focus, where obesity rates are the highest in the country. People are talking about it and we are writing about it. Health care professionals need to step up and shout diabetes education and awareness from the rooftops.
8. She is donating money to the American Diabetes Association.
If you want to know what makes me angry, its health care professionals who fail to educate. I have led hundreds of supermarket tours for diabetes and counseled patients in hospitals where their own doctors and nurses never told their patients what diabetes is and what organ is involved. More times than not, they had no idea what their pancreas did or where it’s located. I was their first experience with any dietitian. Isn’t that a failure of the medical profession who is extensively educated on diabetes? Maybe that’s why our hospitals are overflowing with people who never had anything explained to them regarding their diabetes. Furthermore, I think this is also an opportunity to see how we fail to meet people where they are. With Paula, you have to meet her at sweet tea. One change is one to be applauded. I am hoping to see more to follow.
While I don’t agree with all of Paula Deen’s cooking methods, she has an opportunity to be a polarizing catalyst for change in the South. She can inspire and ignite passion in Southern folks who love their food by making it healthier. I am not talking about a total 180 here. You have to understand, a lot of the food she makes is the engrained in many Southerners so making small changes in Southern classics is where she can impact the most. She can give people reasonable, yet healthier alternatives to her recipes and showcase more fruit and vegetable dishes. I think her son’s new show, “Not My Mama’s Meals” is definitely a step in the right direction but it speaks to a younger generation. Paula Deen can really impact Baby Boomers and older generations to get their health in check by showcasing her food with “less”. What do I mean by less? I mean using butter and sugar, but decreasing the amount or omitting it all together when it’s not needed. She can show people alternatives to butter. Paula could even partner with the American Diabetes Association to educate people on diabetes, its horrific complications, and healthy lifestyles. If she takes her followers on her journey, they are sure to follow. They may even get tested. Even if she has a big drug company sponsoring her and medication is an important part in managing her diabetes, I hope she shows us how food can be her medicine as well.
While I am sure to get some heated responses from this, I embrace them with open arms and thank you for your opinion. This is mine, and I hope you can see a different point of view. If you can’t, then bless your heart. I will pray you can in the future. My whole point in writing this is for all of us to rally together to get the message out about diabetes and make some lemonade out of lemons.
If you or someone you know has diabetes, I encourage you to talk to your doctor extensively about your disease and get a referral for dietitian. Ask a ton of questions. If you do or don’t have insurance, many grocery retailers have supermarket dietitians that do free diabetes tours for customers. Check with your local retailer for a dietitian in your grocery store. For more information about diabetes, go to the American Diabetes Association’s website at www.diabetes.org.