Paula Deen is the reigning queen of southern cooking right now. I’m sure you’ve heard the about the angry backlash she is experiencing since publicly revealing her diabetes diagnosis along with a deal with a pharmaceutical company to promote a diabetes drug. If not here’s a couple of links to fill you in:
- Paula Deen says she has type 2 diabetes
- Paula Deen Shocked By Lack Of Public Support Following Diabetes Announcement
- Paula Deen on Her Diabetes: ‘I Have No Regrets’
Paula says she has no regrets. If that is so, Paula, honey, we need to talk. I’d like to invite you to take another look at the south’s culinary heritage thru Mrs. Dull’s eyes and Weston Price’s research.
Is Paula’s Cooking Really Southern in the Traditional Sense?
Or is it the Standard American Diet (SAD) as eaten in the south? If it were just the way people in the south eat that wouldn’t account for the popularity of Paula’s recipes. It seems to me that her recipes are appealing to those with small household food budgets or those whose budgets are shrinking. This definitely describes much of the south along with wide swaths of the country in this recession. But the south has been in this economic position for a long time and has lots of practice. We’ve evolved our food traditions around making do and doing very well, thank you very much! Traditional southern food consists of local foods prepared very simply. This saved time as well as money. People ate locally because it was cheap. People who worked hard didn’t have time to make a lot of fussy foods. People with little cash money didn’t shop at the food store if they could help it.
Paula’s recipes are an extension of this kind of thinking. If a home cook in modern times has time constraints and must choose unfussy, easy to prepare foods they turn to processed foods as ingredients in their recipes. If a home cook now must buy their food as cheaply as possible they turn to the big box stores like Sam’s and Walmart. So I suppose in this limited sense Paula’s food is southern. But these same methods of containing food costs are used by cash strapped people all over this country.
I think J. Bryan Lowder at Slate sums it up nicely:
With regard to the Southern thing, I’ll start just by pointing out that Deen’s food is not so much Southern as it is working-class American. Hers are recipes with ingredients that you can easily and cheaply pick up at your local Super Wal-Mart, make in bulk, and satisfy a large swath of palates. True, it’s not particularly healthy; but if Deen has committed any real crime in her rise to fame, it’s been her conflation of what we might call a class-based style of cooking with a regional one.
Southern food writer Virginia Willis also noted in the New York Times:
Paula’s food often reflects modern cooking and convenience foods more than Southern tradition. … She feels like she cooks for ‘real people,’ and for better or worse, that is how many people in this country choose to eat.
Well, not so much choose to eat but fall into eating thru availability, low prices and advertising. Paula’s style of cooking was born not only in her heritage but in her adult life of economic hardship. She learned as a young woman how to cook for her little family on a small budget. As a restauranteur and caterer, then later as a celebrity cook she concocted outrageous dishes to wow the guests and viewers. These dishes are over the top to attract attention. And they do, lots of it. I seriously doubt that her most egregious dietary creations are eaten by anyone very often, so they are beside the point. Her heart and soul recipes however are similar to ones made by american home cooks since the introduction of processed foods on a wide scale. So I think we can best think of her cooking as an example of the Standard American Diet (SAD) with a nod to traditional southern cooking thrown in.
With lots of calories and sugar these recipes will make you a momentary hero in a household that makes frequent stops at fast food places. I remember one woman saying that Paula had made her a Rockstar in the kitchen on more than one occasion. This food fills you up and tastes good to boot. This is home cooking in a fast food nation.
This Kind of Thinking about Food is Killing Us
Making quickness and cheapness the most important factors in choosing food is killing us. Albeit, slowly, but it is making us feel pretty bad along the way. The food choices that are cheapest and easiest to find are the very worst ones we could make health wise. I won’t recap here the list of all the diet related diseases that are widespread in the western world. The media does a pretty good job of covering those. But I will bring up just one: diabetes. Many studies show that sugar consumption correlates to diabetes risk. SAD is a high sugar diet.
The way out of this conundrum of cheap and quick foods and suffering they lead to is learning to cook food in traditional ways. My heritage is one of southern cooking and I live in the south. It’s the tradition that holds the most appeal for me. But everyone should pick their own. If you live where your grandparent’s lived consider what their diet was. If you live in a new spot, look at what the people who lived there 80 years ago ate. Consider adopting their culinary traditions to help keep things local.
Keeping your food purchases local helps to improve nutrient density. Foods lose nutrients rapidly in transport. Processing also leads to a lot of nutrient loss. Local food hasn’t been thru all that. Plus, when you know the farmer you can be pretty sure of getting what you paid for.
Separation from the Land and the Broken Arrow of Southern Cooking
As we’ve become more and more distant from farming we’ve lost much of the knowledge needed to make things from scratch. Rachel at Time For Good Food has a great quote from Hugh Acheson, author of “A New Turn in the South” in her post about “Cooking like a Granny Woman”. As to claims that Southern food is inherently unhealthy, he responds:
“Southern food did not make the South unhealthy, rather a broken arrow of cookery did, one that is ultra-processed, trans fat laden, lard fried, and massively caloric. That’s not how I eat, and I eat Southern food pretty much every day of my life.”
Now, I disagree about the lard* being unhealthy, but give everything else he says here a resounding YES! When I was growing up it seemed people did their frying in Crisco not lard.
We need to mend the arrow of tradition by getting to know our local farmers, supporting them, and learning to cook from real ingredients just as our grandmothers did. We will heal ourselves in the process. Paula, I hope you will join us.
* Note that most if not all the lard at the supermarket is hydrogenated and as such is NOT a healthy choice. But it’s not too hard to make your own or buy from a reputable supplier.
- Paula and Pound Cake – TimeForGoodFood.blogspot.com
- Treating Diabetes: Practical Advice for Combatting a Modern Epidemic by Thomas Cowan, MD – WestonAPrice.org
- Paula Deen’s diabetes a result of unhealthy eating but don’t blame the butter – My Life in a Pyramid.
- Fat and Diabetes: Bad Press, Good Paper, and the Reemergence of Our Good Friend Glutathione – WestonAPrice.org
- Put Lard Back in your Larder – WestonAPrice.org
- Rise and Fall of Crisco – WestonAPrice.org
This post is part of Butter Believer’s Sunday School, The Healthy Home Economist’s Monday Mania, Real Food Forager’s Fat Tuesday, Weekend Gourmet Blog Carnival at Hartke Is Online, Kelly the Kitchen Kops Real Food Wednesday and Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.