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Paula Deen, Aunt Bee and Motherhood

January 26, 2012

Paula Deen fell under scrutiny recently when it was revealed that she is diabetic. Her worst critics are her peers, the fifty something women who cluck at her bad behavior and respond in a superior fashion with comments like, “I’m not surprised” and “the audacity! The woman even makes money off the drugs that treat the illness she helped to create”.

I feel for Paula Deen’s health concerns. Our society is facing a health crisis of sorts, due in part to the choices we make when it comes to diet and exercise. But there are issues more fundamental than this and much larger than Paula Deen.

I have not watched her show or read her book, but based on her public persona she exudes warmth, comfort, and sustenance. She is a woman who embraces the fullness of life and makes life’s little pleasures even more expansive. She owns and treasures the richness of her heritage and is not afraid to draw attention to what she sees as its abundance.

Paula Deen, and perhaps more importantly, her popularity, reveals our culture’s deep desire for warmth, for nurture, for nourishment. She is a modern-day Aunt Bee. Would we have thrown Aunt Bee to the wolves for loving her family with chocolate cake and sumptuous meals in a previous generation?

Paula Deen and Aunt Bee embody “mother love”. Their ample bodies, large breasts and warm smiles draw us in, promise comfort, nurture and love. They promise food for the body, mind and soul. When our generation took on careers and began to see ourselves as producers rather than caregivers and nurturers we began to disown our very nature as women. We denied ourselves the pleasure, sustenance and fullness that being at one with our nature permits.

We are a generation of women who have denied ourselves nourishment on so many levels. The emaciated models in health and beauty magazines, the obsession with success and perfection at any cost has caused up to see food and our bodies as the enemies. We see enjoyment and indulgence as stealers of time, energy, and production. Our generation has allowed our culture to deny us our very basic human need for physical, spiritual and emotional nourishment.

Food is not a necessary evil. It is our life blood. It is sustenance. It is pleasure. In a very real and visceral way, it represents so much more than mere calories. A good meal is like good sex. Satisfying. Fulfilling. Sustaining. It is not inherently sinful and should not be disdained anymore than Paula Deen or Aunt Bee.

The real issue is a deeply psycho/spiritual one. We are hungry. Deeply, soulfully hungry, but we do not feed our souls, we feed our bodies. Rather than taking the time to rest, relax or play, embracing our very nature as providers of sustenance of all kinds, we feed our bodies. We are stuffed and yet we starving to death.

Ultimately, we are responsible for our own choices. It serves no purpose to blame another for our own ills or those of our culture, which we help to create and keep in place. Perhaps it’s time for another correction in our understanding and subsequent acceptance of ourselves as women.  Perhaps its time to embrace all that we are and all that we have to offer the world.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2012 4:47 pm

    Bravo, bravo! You said it! No food is not the problem. There is any excuse in todays society to blame instead of looking at the real issues. Yes, this was one of the best articles that I have read. I have wanted to write one like it myself. I am glad that you spoke up. As usual, thank you!

  2. January 26, 2012 4:58 pm

    Dorothy, this is great and very timely! Paula Deen’s success has less to do with her cooking and more to do with the fact that we would love to have her as one of our own family members or confidant! I love to cook myself. I love to entertain. I consider a lovely meal my gift to those I care about. It’s something I learned from my Mom and hopefully passed down to my daughter.
    And you are so right about choice. We have so many choices in our food today. It’s really up to us to eat healthy. Paula Deen teaches only one of those choices and nobody says you have to eat that way all of the time. Just because someone shows me how to drive a race car doesn’t mean I would drive that way every day!
    The prevailing attitude today seems to be that we can do whatever we want whenever we want. We can. But we all need to know that there are consequences for every action.

  3. January 26, 2012 5:13 pm

    My mother is from the South. Paula Deen is from the South. Paula Deen did not invent Southern cooking. It has been around for quite a long time. Saying that the type of food she prepares is a bad choice is unfair. Our Southern grandparents worked the farm and burned off the high calorie high fat content food they ate. The reasons so many Southerners are obese now are the car, computer and sedentary jobs. Ask an Italian, Mexican or Scandinavian to give up their cultures diet and see what they say. What the South needs is to reinvent Southern cooking with fewer calories and fat.

    All the holier than thou people need to look at their own diet. We all need to practice moderation.

  4. January 26, 2012 7:52 pm

    Excellent post…
    One statement especially resonates with me… “We are stuffed and yet we starving to death.” Yes, we definitely need to feed our souls FIRST!

    Thank you for writing your insights so clearly…

  5. January 29, 2012 11:09 am

    I feel compassion for Paula and her health situation. I have struggled with my weight since childhood and I am now 61. I know I am at risk for diabetes, yet I have trouble doing what I’m supposed to do because I’m an emotional eater. So I understand the difficulties. But the problem I have with Paula is that she knew for three years that she had diabetes and continued to promote unhealthy choices to others. When she finally did reveal she had the disease, it was in conjunction with her new relationship with a pharmaceutical company that sells a diabetes medication. This is what garnered the criticism. Thank you for your post. It is very thought-provoking.

  6. January 31, 2012 4:17 pm

    Dorothy, I appreciate your perspective about Paula’s good qualities. We certainly can use a few more caring people around like her . As a health care professional, I have a focused on healthy lifestyle choices and have spent a lot of time counseling people about proper nutrition so I would never promote her choices on a regular basis. We all have to take responsibility for our our own health to avoid increased risks imposed on us by obesity(diabetes,heart disease,even cancer) So while I embrace her fun-loving and caring presence, I don’t support the food choices she has been promoting. I think it would be great if she began promoting healthy eating and showed us all what a difference it can make in the quality of our lives. Thanks for a very thought-provoking post!

    • January 31, 2012 6:12 pm

      Kathleen, She may have inadvertently walked into her mission for her second half of life persona! The very audience she has in front of her may be the exact people who can learn the most from her story, although many people who watch her program say they wouldn’t cook that way more than occasionally. Thanks for your comment and perspective.

  7. February 11, 2012 2:47 pm

    This is one of the most sane, rational articles about food and society (and aging) I’ve ever read! We are all adults and know how to eat properly. Can we just forgo judgement and enjoy life and each other?

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