Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Post-Paula fallout, or why I blame TV

I have to disclose that I was a very picky eater as a child. I didn't like fish, beans, most poultry, certain fruit, mushrooms, olives, even certain bread. I realize now that perhaps it was the way these were prepared that turned me off to them until I was older and I finally tasted tasted what they could (or should) be like. I know that's a common story among people, especially those who were brought up on canned and prepped items. 

However, that wasn't the case with me. My parents, like many folks in the 60's, were fans of Julia Child and her cookbooks. They tried very hard to create some of her recipes and did not always succeed. It was the taste of those foods prepared by my folks that I believe made me picky as a youth. 

As much as I can make fun of my parents' cooking, I do credit them for opening up my palate so that now, as an adult, I am willing to try anything, and I do mean anything. And the plethora of cookbooks around the house did encourage me to try my own hand at cooking and baking, which was probably as successful initially as some of my parents' experiments. (There's a tuna-garlic-cheese fiasco that still makes some of my friends cringe.)

But, yes, watching Julia Child on TV was a treat, even as a kid, because I learned how to do so many things: debone an entire chicken, scale and gut fish, chop veggies into different shapes, mix cake ingredients properly. Basically, learn how to cook. Not to sound like an old geezer, but cooking shows back then did show more of that than they do now. For all this talk of "localvores" and "natural ingredients" why don't shows really show you the nitty gritty of cooking, as opposed to just gauze-lit shots of someone smiling over a saute pan? Everything is pre-cut and pre-measured, which I suppose could be an excuse to use more of the time to show cooking, but they don't. It's gone from instructional programming to softcore voyeurism. 

But at least some of them have what can be considered healthier or original recipes. And then we get to Paula Deen. 

I'm sorry, but I never got her appeal, as it were. Even in my Retro Ska Librarian Days, where I often cooked with immense amounts of cream, butter and sugar, I found her recipes somewhat gut-churning. And yes, Julia Child was a big fan of butter, but not just slathering it on without an idea of how things work together. Julia showed the different ways you could use butter as an ingredient, from dark and nutty to frothed and creamy. Paula just seems to pour it on.

I'm not blaming Deen's persona, at least not at first. A lot of Chefs have a schtick and hers was "down-home Southern" although I never quite knew if it was real. The late Keith Floyd, who often seemed completely inebriated on his cooking shows, still managed to come across as genuine and showed how to really cook. And two of my favorite cooking shows, Two Fat Ladies and Bitchin' Kitchen are certainly hilarious and routine-filled, but again, both show you how to actually prepare the food, even if it's not something I would normally think of cooking everyday. (Although the Two Fat Ladies Parsnip Puree is now a Thanksgiving staple in the house).

But Paula Deen's food does not do that. What really made me completely dismiss her was the whole diabetes diagnosis. It made me angry that she basically shilled this incredibly unhealthy, unappetizing food, got diabetes and then shilled the diabetes medication. That's just disgusting. 

I think Frank Bruni says it best in his op-ed piece in the NY Times:

"This disclosure was timed not to benefit her fans, who were continuing to follow her fatty counsel, but to benefit her: one of her sons had a new healthy-cooking show that needed promoting, and she herself was stepping out as a spokeswoman — a paid spokeswoman — for a diabetes drug." 

And now her recent escapades in ... I know no other way to put it.... idiocy have actually lost her contracts. Well, it's not surprising. What is surprising is the support I'm reading all over everyone's commentary about how she "a product of her place" and "we all think like that" and "it wasn't that bad." Seriously?

OK, I was born and raised in NYC, the town made fun of by most other parts of the country. NYC is probably one of the most culturally, racially and ethnically diverse places on earth, all scrunched up into a very small space. And I can safely say  that, no matter entrenched we are as a "Blue State City", there's a whole lot of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and the like that goes on here. But you learn pretty quickly that you have to deal with and unlearn those prejudices to survive here. And if you don't, like many here, you should be aware enough to know that you do NOT go around saying things, no matter how famous you are, and expect no one to notice. Because we WILL call you on it, famous or not. 

And here's where her persona really kicked in for me. I suppose she speaks to the general masses with her bland cooking and her cutesy attitude, but she's now managed to create a huge unhealthy swatch of folks throughout our country and simultaneously has the audacity to publicly believe in racial superiority. Why should we find that acceptable? 

I'm not saying that you can't enjoy her type of cooking. But why not try to partake in this culinary lesson with someone who might actually TEACH you how to cook and, as a teacher, might actually know the kind of message they're spreading?

I think the two are connected. 

I really want to see a return to better cooking shows. I want to see accountability for the crap that get puts on the air now. The Food Network has shown accountability by not renewing Deen's contract, but that wasn't for her cooking. We're seeing a huge backlash to the tremendous increase in culinary schools, which we might also blame on these increase of cooking show mediocrity, so perhaps it would be better to start programming a little more thoughtfully and educationally.


Bruni, F. (2013, June 24). Paula’s Worst Ingredients. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/25/opinion/bruni-paulas-worst-ingredients.html

1 comment:

  1. Just an observation, but seeing the huge crowd outside Paula Deen's restaurant was eye-opening. Almost ninety percent were clinically obese, some morbidly obese. Thanks Paula for your contribution to American waistlines and diabetes statistics!