>Paula Deen’s Credibility and Calorie Crisis
Hey y’all! It’s my turn to weigh in on Paula Deen. And let me begin with full disclosure: I luv Paouler Deen. I watch Food Network—and like it. I also know that cigarettes will kill you and so will texting and driving.
These days, people are upset that the woman who sends love and best dishes, preferably rolled in bacon, deep fried, and buried in butter sauce, has for three years kept hidden her diagnosis of type-2 diabetes, coming clean only after she’d signed a contract with pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk. With indignation worthy of Captain Renault, they are tripping over themselves to throw grease on the fire, calling her “greedy” and “a hypocrite,” and they accuse her of being the incarnation of that ultimate ne’er do well, “The Devil.”
Let’s look at some of the issues:
1. Paula, whose multi million-dollar empire was borne of her exposure on Food Network, neglected to tell Food Network of her diagnosis.
2. Paula, whose recipes are a cardiologist’s nightmare (or dream, depending on the cardiologist), swears she’s “always stressed moderation.”
3. Paula disclosed her diagnosis only after signing with Novo Nordisk.
4. Paula says she kept her diabetes a secret because she “had nothing to bring to the table,” until she had the Novo Nordisk deal.
Where to start? There are enough public relations missteps here to create a syllabus on crisis communications not to mention sheer ineptitude. The Paula Deen, Food Network, and Novo Nordisk brands are all taking hits here.
Food Network could play the “we’ve been lied to, too” card, but it’s hard for the Network that also brings you Cupcake Wars and Diners Drive-ins and Dives to escape the now energized microscopes of the food police. Paula is also one of its biggest moneymakers. Should Paula have told Food Network before now? Oh yeah. Three years ago.
I don’t know who approached whom about the Novo Nordisk deal, but the company, whose credibility with its customers, namely diabetics, is on the line, should have told Paula to “disclose, clean up your recipes, start turning around your image, and then we’ll talk to you.” The company should have let her establish some credibility in having “seen the light” before hitching its brand to the woman who also has endorsement deals with Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Smithfield Ham.
And Paula, Paula, Paula. Until the type-2 tsunami, Paula’s biggest PR problem was being insulted by Anthony Bourdain. That didn’t exactly make her unique and in fact, made her more sympathetic to her fans. While Bourdain has been among the first and loudest to pile on, this latest crisis is all her own doing. Her failure to act may have been out of fear, naïveté, or maybe, in fact, greed. Regardless, she handled it poorly and will need to do a lot more in the cause of healthier eating and living to acknowledge the seriousness of her diagnosis, that she should have disclosed sooner, and to truly bring something to the table in her new role as role model.
Now, to the charge of hypocrisy. Both detractors and fans alike have leveled this charge. I get it (sort of) coming from people who’ve always thought her recipes irresponsible in the face of America’s obesity epidemic. Still, it’s not as if she ever promoted her food as good for you. Her forkfuls of deep-fried everything are always taken with a nod toward the decadence, if not the danger, of it all. But since she did promote it, fine.
Her fans, however, are another story. The people who hang on Paula’s every cup of heavy cream, who salivate over buttermilk marinades and bacon wrapped mac-and-cheese, who delight at brunch buffets of sticky buns and chocolate chip pancakes with cinnamon cream—how, exactly, were they “betrayed” by Paula not telling them she has diabetes? Do they really think these recipes are tickets to immortality? Do they truly think overweight, wheezing Paula Deen is a nutritionist? Are these same people surprised that Amy Winehouse won’t be getting a shout out from Willard Scott? Or that David Crosby needed a liver transplant? If they think by her very existence Paula Deen is validation for a high daily intake of saturated fat-laden calories, then after a bowl of cheese grits, why don’t we all grab a cigarette and go texting and driving?
Felicia Knight is President of Knight Vision International, LLC
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