FOOD WISE: I tried to stay out of it. Really, I did.

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

I tried to stay out of it. Really, I did. The whole thing is getting completely out of hand and my nosy, busy body self won’t let me keep my pie-hole shut any longer. I’m sure you’ve probably heard about it, too. Lots of folks have been asking me about it. That’s why I’m writing about it here. I’m talking about the controversy surrounding Ms. Paula Deen.

Paula recently disclosed that she has type II diabetes. No big surprise there, right? Well, now everybody’s all in an uproar about it. Apparently, not only has she known about the diagnosis for about three years, but she has also accepted an endorsement deal to be a spokesperson for a pharmaceutical company that manufactures a drug used to treat the disease.

There has been all kinds of ugliness spewed about since then. Anthony Bourdain, who has disdained Paula for quite some time, tweeted “Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later.” This isn’t the first time he’s had nasty things to say about her. Oh come on…let’s just say it like it is. He’s pretty much nasty about everybody, especially those who are making more money than he is. I really hope he doesn’t ever have a problem or crisis because he’s building up some real bad karma, or whatever.

The Huffington Post reported that Ms. Deen’s announcement “has stirred up anger and loathing from across the food world. For evidence, you don’t need to look much further than the comment boards of any story HuffPost Food has posted on the topic.”  I read the comment boards on that story and they were overwhelmingly in support of Paula. Most every comment had to do with how much the person loved Paula Deen or indicated the person’s feeling that her health issues are her own business.

Fox News headlined their story, “Diabetics call Paula Deen a hypocrite for hiding diabetes while promoting sugar-heavy foods.” When you actually read the story the only one calling her a hypocrite was a marketing consultant for Fox News. Diabetes educator Carl Moore, was quoted in the article as saying that Paula’s unhealthy habits “tweaked” diabetics like him. The article goes on to say that Moore had been a long-time follower of Deen and owned and cooked from many of her cookbooks. If we are attacking her, why aren’t we attacking him? I mean, he is a diabetic educator after all. Shouldn’t he know better than to cook from the recipes of the reputed buttah queen? See how silly this is?

According to WebMD, factors contributing to type II diabetes include overweight and obesity, aging, inactivity, too much TV time (probably because of snacking associated with television watching) and genetics. Perhaps we should burn an effigy for all those who veg out in front of the TV or get old. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I do think the culinary community needs to exercise and advocate responsible food choices. But it’s more than just low-fat or low sugar. Responsibility includes supporting local farmers and food. This affects more than just our waistlines. It includes advocating organic, chemical and hormone free and non-processed food. Talk about affecting health?

That being said, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s your own business how and what you choose to eat. The same is true of Paula Deen. Who among us doesn’t sometimes indulge in things we shouldn’t? As I write this, I’m sitting here sipping on a Diet Coke. In fact, in the spirit of true confession, I’m completely addicted to Diet Coke. I know I need to get off the juice and I will. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, when I am ready. The fact is, it’s my business and what you consume is your business. It doesn’t mean that I can’t entertain you and maybe even teach you something just because I’m not perfect. I kinda like that Paula isn’t perfect. It makes her more like us. She struggles with the same stuff we struggle with.

Besides, would we really have been as entertained if she had been a skinny cook demonstrating how to cut up some carrots? Don’t we bear any responsibility for our own choices and health? Paula Deen certainly hasn’t held our arms behind our backs and made us eat more butter and sugar. My mama used to say, if so-and-so jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too? It was her way of trying to get me to think for myself.

When asked about her eating habits, Paula responded that she doesn’t eat that way everyday. The way Paula figures it, she spends about six weeks a year filming her TV show. The rest of the time, she tries to make good choices and eats fattening food “as an occasional treat.” Life would be awfully boring without that occasional treat, wouldn’t you  agree?

It is interesting to note the American Diabetes Association has been very supportive of Deen, welcoming her to the association’s Stop Diabetes Movement and indicating they believe she may inspire others with the disease with her positive outlook.

You should also know that although I have a good deal of respect for Paula Deen, I wouldn’t consider myself a fan. I don’t watch her show and I don’t own any of her cookbooks. But, this is a woman who has overcome great obstacles to build a good life and the culinary empire she enjoys today, plus she is a genuinely likable and charming lady.

I do, however; think that we as a society have become too judgmental and critical of things that don’t concern us. Rather, I choose to feel grateful that she is doing what she needs to do to take care of herself. Besides, I’m sure another celebrity will screw up in a week or two and then everybody will forget all about this minutia.

I wish Ms. Paula good health and, as she says in her show, “continued best dishes.”

 Chef Reneé’s  Southern Beans and Rice

In Honor of Ms. Paula Deen

 

Chef Renee's Southern Beans and Rice

2 tablespoons whole butter

1 half sweet onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, pressed through a press

1 small piece of salt pork or ham hock

2 cups of pinto beans

2 cups chicken stock

water, as needed

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper, as needed

Tony’s creole seasoning, to taste

2 cups jasmine rice

1. Melt butter in a medium-large pot. Add onion and saute until slightly translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the pork, beans, chicken stock and enough water to cover. Bring to a full boil. Then cover and turn the heat off. Leave for at least an hour or overnight.

2. Add water as needed. Return to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer. Add bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cover and cook until beans are soft and cooked through. Mash some of the beans, which will allow the beans to thicken. Adjust seasonings and add Tony’s creole seasoning to taste.

3. Rinse the rice in a fine mesh with water until the water runs clear. In a separate pot, add the 2 cups of rice, along with 4 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover and cook until tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf from the beans. To serve, spoon some rice into a bowl and ladle beans over the top. Sprinkle with more Tony’s, if desired. Garnish with minced green onions.