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Paula Deen: This Little Piggy Went to Market

Why the TV cooking celebrity waited three years to announce her diabetes.

BY Terry J. Allen

The only way Americans can have their (battered, deep-fried) cake and eat it too is to take drugs, forever. It's a big-pharma wet dream.

Host of a gross $10 million food empire, Paula Deen gives fat people a bad name. The queen of Southern cuisine recently announced (on TV, of course), that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Three years ago.

Last August – when she knew about, but hadn’t acknowledged, her diet-linked disease – the Food Network personality told the New York Post: “I wake up every morning happy for where I am in life. It’s not all about the cooking, but the fact that I can contribute by using my influence to help people all over the country.”

What she helps them to is sickening food. Deen gleefully and lucratively promotes a diet that would make a marathon runner fat. Unlike cancers triggered by environmental toxins or asthma exacerbated by polluted air, Type 2 diabetes is largely a lifestyle disease. A bad diet and overweightness are key factors in creating America’s 26 million diabetics – and making them more dependent on drugs. The country’s 79 million prediabetics are heading toward a lifelong life-threatening condition that is now nearly four times as common as all forms of cancer combined.

Deen’s explanation of why she waited three years before going public was harder to swallow than her signature donut burger: “I wanted to wait until I had something to bring to the table,” she told the Post. “I wasn’t armed with enough knowledge.”

But ameliorating Type 2 diabetes is not rocket science; it’s not even bicycle repair. A more palatable explanation: Deen wanted to wait until she had negotiated a multi-million dollar deal with drug giant Novo Nordisk to become a paid spokesperson for Victoza, a $500-a-month injectable diabetes drug.

Deen, who says she doesn’t own a scale, boasts: “I’ve always preached moderation. I don’t blame myself.” Indulge, if you can stomach it, in moderation à la Deen:

– Mac and cheese doped with sour cream and eggs, wrapped in bacon and deep fried.

– A half-pound beef patty with bacon and fried egg, eaten between glazed donuts.

– Fudge “made from one of our four food groups: cheese,” she chuckled on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, while mixing sugar, cocoa, Velveeta and butter to form a fist-sized lollipop, which she then dipped in caramel and white chocolate, and rolled in nuts.

– And lest you think she neglects fruits and veggies: A battered, deep-fried pumpkin layer cake with cream cheese and orange frosting.

The American Diabetes Association – which lists Novo Nordisk among its top corporate sponsors, along with Merck, Lilly and other drug and food companies – downplays the role of diet. “You can’t eat your way to diabetes,” the organization’s director of education told The New York Times. Which is like saying you can’t smoke your way to lung cancer. Yes, there are genetic and other factors, but the overwhelming predictor of Type 2 diabetes is being overweight.

Obesity, one of the few health conditions that can still be ridiculed with impunity, is a serious, intractable problem. But Deen’s recipes are a sugar-coated invitation to heaviness and increased risk of diabetes, both of which disproportionately affect lower-income people and some minorities.

The only way for Deen and America to have their (battered, deep-fried) cake and eat it too is to take drugs, forever – making Type 2 diabetes a big-pharma wet dream since its victims can live long, heavily medicated lives. The drug industry, abetted by many doctors, not only pathologizes normal life experiences like menopause or grief after a loved one’s death and prescribes pharmaceutical “cures,” it also promotes drugs as the first intervention in conditions such as high cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes, which can often be prevented or controlled by changing the lifestyle that underlies the illness.

In the three years Deen was negotiating how to profit from her partially self-inflicted disease, in the United States alone, the direct and indirect costs of diabetes topped $640 billion, almost 6 million adults were newly diagnosed, about 200,000 lost a limb and 700,000 died from a disease that can be more than halved through lifestyle changes.

Choke that down between glazed donuts, Paula.

Terry J. Allen, an In These Times senior editor, has written the magazine's monthly investigative health and science column since 2006.

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