Monday, October 22, 2012

Interviews with BIG Food Stars – Part Three: Paula Goes Rogue…Oh Wait, That’s Just Paula

In contrast to the serious and almost scholarly tones of the first two Times Talks I’ve told you about, the decorum of the third one came to a screeching halt before it even began. Just after Paula Deen was introduced, we HEAR her long before we SEE her reach the stage. (I hope this link of Paula’s talk will work for you.)

She practically sprints out onto the stage with a HELLLLLLOOOOO so huge that folks in the back in the room (heck, in rooms 3 blocks away) could hear her.
And, gosh, did Paula look snazzy with her hair up, in a tight(ish) leather skirt, boots and fish net tights. She looked in fighting shape with her stylish, serious glasses.

She brought her little dog Lulu on a leash. Interviewer, Kim Severson, didn’t look any too pleased. Kim, who is very no nonsense and knowledgeable, was the perfect person to interview Paula. She was able to ask some tough questions without (immediately anyway) melting under Paula’s southern charm.

Kim told Paula that Lulu peed on her trousers backstage. "Really?", asked Paula. "No, but she peed in the hallway." “Oh that could have been me,” says Paula. “My bladder is shot.” Oh Paula, I love ya.

They talked about how Paula came from no money and that she had 200 dollars when she started her little business, The Bag Lady. Her boys were 19 and 21 and, because they had no focus at the time, she got them to pimp her food. (I can’t remember if those were her words or mine.)

Now in addition to her restaurant, Food Network show(s) and books (oh, AND a self-titled magazine), she also has a furniture line and a line of food, including stuffing, soups and jams, made from her own recipes. “The sugar free chocolate will make you want to slap your mama.“ That’s just part of the Paula empire.

Kim asked her about the protests surrounding her deal with Smithfield hams. “I have toured the plants, but I have not seen where the animals are euthanized,” said Paula. Kim assured us that they’ll get to the fun stuff soon. Paula talks about how she loves animals and says that she adores the chickens she raises. She’d eat their chicken food before she’d eat THEM, she says.

This is a whole other megillah of a subject and I don’t think the question of what the heck she’s doing being allied with Smithfield is going to get answered this afternoon, but I appreciate that it was brought up. However, no new light was shed on it. (Clearly it involves a huge paycheck and we don’t really have to look any further than that for motive.) But on to lighter things…literally.

We learn that husband Michael has lost 60 pounds and she has lost 40 pounds. And then there’s a very lengthy discussion of her diabetes diagnosis, the Novo Nordisk endorsement deal and the public backlash. After Paula described the situation, I feel as if we got a better understanding of what was going on at the time. I did anyway.

Paula says that when she was first diagnosed, she was in complete denial. The doctor gave her some medicine and she thought she would go back in 6 months and magically she wouldn’t have diabetes anymore. It didn’t turn out that way.

By the third 6 month test, her doctor said she wasn’t reacting well to the medication and it had to be changed. Paula then began to realize it wasn’t going to go away. She said she went through all the usual emotions - denial, anger, fear. She was flummoxed because her life had finally gotten so good and now this threatened all of that. “You mean, I can’t be who I am anymore?,” she asked. ”I can’t be WHAT I am. Yes, you fight that. You fight those kind of changes.”

All of that sounds legitimate to me. Gradually, she began to accept the reality of the whole thing and realized she had to be proactive about her health.

It's the next part of the story I hadn’t heard before. (And I choose to take her at her word. And, yes, I’d be happy to look at any bridge you’d like to sell me.)

She says that Novo Nordisk called her business manager and said they wanted Paula to reformulate some favorite southern recipes to make them diabetic friendly. This was BEFORE they knew that Paula had diabetes. She was gobsmacked that, without knowing her condition, they had contacted her. And she says THEY “fell off their perches” when they found out SHE was diabetic.

At that point, Paula sat with their doctors to learn about the disease. They educated her about the changes she would have to make to control her diabetes. That was when she felt she really had “something to bring to the table” and that was why she announced it when she did…says Paula.

I do get it…somewhat. Doesn’t it make sense that someone like Paula – whose life’s work is kind of anathema to sensible eating – might take longer than the average Josephine to come to terms with everything? In Paula’s case, it’s not just her health, but her career, her reputation, her whole public image that had to be considered. The ironic thing is that by waiting so long and talking about it only when she had a drug deal, it all looked a lot shadier than if she had just come out with it earlier and been upfront about how discombobulated she was.

Unfortunately, I don't think Paula gets the disconnect where people were suspicious of the timing. Enough already, but Paula’s main point is that it wasn’t the DEAL that made her announce her disease, it was the information and advice that the company gave her. She didn’t want to announce it and just go away.

Paula said she’s always been a problem solver. NOW she was “loaded with information” and felt empowered to go out and help other people. Plus she was just relieved that she was 63 years old and still alive! She said her parents didn’t live long enough to get the disease. 

Then Paula said she “was not about to pee in someone’s ear and convince them it was raining.” Alrighty then. Let’s move on...Oh, not yet. When talking about the hugely negative reaction, Kim reminded everyone that Paula said, "It’s entertainment y’all.  I don’t eat that way every day." Paula said Food Network hosts are going to bring the public recipes that taste the best. "We certainly don’t advocate that you eat that way everyday." 

Does that strike you as somewhat hilarious? It's as if she's saying we're going to show you these recipes, but for goodness sake, don't actually make them or they will kill you!

Paula said she went into hiding and she was really scared when she had to make her first public appearance after the brouhaha. Then she appeared in a room of 3000 folks and they gave her a standing ovation. She told them she really needed to hear and see them to know that the people that mattered were pulling for her. 

I have to say that THIS TimesTalk audience didn’t burst into applause at the sentimental parts of her story. It’s fair to say that there’s still skepticism out there about how everything went down. I love Paula, but nothing she has said has changed my mind that announcing her diabetes at the exact time as she endorsed a drug was not a good thing to do. I wouldn’t have minded if she had NEVER told us. It's not our business. But she explained how it came to pass and that’s it.

Just a few more things – Kim has a question from someone about how this person can’t afford the medicine that Paula takes. Paula is very worried about that, and somehow she launches into a thing about tweeting…except she doesn’t call it tweeting. She changes a vowel and it becomes a really dirty word that Kim can’t believe she keeps repeating.

Then Kim tries to get Paula’s views on the election and the issue of health care. But Paula ain’t biting. She does say if she were the president, she’d give everybody health insurance, a job, maybe a little piece of land and they’d have to have a fresh cake in their house once a week. She adds they could also have as big a soda as they wanted.

We see a clip of Paula on that show about ancestors when she learns that her great, great, great, great (great, I think) grandfather owned slaves. She is mortified and says it feels like someone threw a bucket of cold water on her. She says if she could go back in time, she would do anything she could to get her grandfather not to participate “in the heinous act of slavery”.

Finally, when talking about southern cooking, Paula said, “It’s how we show our love. If you get sick in the south you’re going to get a pie. if you have a baby, you’re going to get a pie.  If you die you’re going to get a pie.”

That’s a fine thought to end on.

The three TimesTalks I saw (online) were each very interesting. The moderators had time to bring up a lot of different subjects and it was fun to see our favorite food celebs out of the kitchen without a pot to hide behind.   


Aly ~ Cooking in Stilettos said...

My view on Ms. Paula has definitely changed over time and this talk definitely showed more of the real Paula and less of the "Paula on Screen". When I'm wrong I say I'm wrong and, quite frankly, I was wrong. Doesn't mean I'll make her krispy kreme bread pudding any time soon but I am looking forward to seeing her take on recipes going forward :)

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I hate to say this, but I'm just so over Paula. I used to love her. Then I felt sorry for her because she seemed like such a FN puppet. Then she just became a caricature of herself and it seems to me she's trying to cover her tracks about both Smithfield and the diabetes thing. I know she's capable of redeeming herself, but I've just stopped caring.

Then again, it's not just Paula. I haven't watched a FN show in ages. I'm over the old cooking shows as well. Food blogs are where it's at! :-)

Sue said...

Hi Aly,
I also wasn’t happy with the drug deal and diabetes announcement coming simultaneously, but Paula is so much fun to watch that I just can’t quit her.

Also I never really made her recipes before anyway, but I still like watching her for entertainment value.

Hola Rach,
I probably watch HGTV more than food television at the moment, so I get where you’re coming from...especially about food blogs.

I think part of Paula’s enthusiasm for a lot of these paid opportunities is (if I can the play of analyst just for a second) because of her economically challenged past. One never knows when the chance to make such a good living will dry up and I guess she’s going for the gusto as long as she can. Smithfield does present real questions, but, in principle. I love the fact that Paula started kind of late supporting herself and kids and became an amazing success from her own hard work.