Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.Full Bio
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When I heard the announcement that Paula Deen had type 2 diabetes, I was anything but surprised. After all, she was playing Russian roulette with her health all these years.
I tend to gravitate more to healthy cooking than to greasy, fat-laden gastronomic atrocities—hence my basic naiveté concerning what Deen was all about. I first became aware of her existence when visiting Savannah, Georgia, and seeing the endless lines for The Lady and Sons, her ever-popular restaurant. But I'll admit to being just a tad curious to see what the hoopla was all about. So, the other day while on the treadmill at my gym, I switched on the Food Network. There was her show—how serendipitous!
I just about tripped while I watched Deen cooking up a meal that included cornmeal-crusted deep-fried squash, of all things. This was just a day or two following her announcement of her diagnosis, mind you. I don't remember what else she was preparing to go with the squash, since I kind of tuned out—my mind awash with thoughts like, "I can't believe this woman is taking a healthy vegetable and sticking it into a 500-degree oil bath!" and "Huh? Didn't she just announce she had diabetes, for god's sake?"—but I do remember it involved a stick of artery-clogging butter, a whole lot of sugar and a heaping dose of light-hearted banter, accompanied by a devilish glow about how delectable everything would taste.
For fear of being a snobbish, Anthony Bourdain-like food elitist, who told TV Guide last year that Deen was an "outright menace to America" and reprimanded her for making it OK for us to eat food that is "killing us," (note: in retrospect, he was right) I will say this: I think Deen was totally irresponsible in a lot of ways, and it goes way beyond her famed Brunch Burger, a concoction of a hamburger topped with bacon and a fried egg sandwiched in between two glazed doughnuts.
Yes, there are many ways to cook. And we have freedom of choice in what we say and what we choose to eat. No one is forcing us to eat "bad" foods, I know. But I can't help but feel a little differently when it comes to Deen.
For three years, while showing off her saucy, salty, sweet treats, Deen kept her 2008 diabetes diagnosis hidden. Three years? Come on, that's a bit excessive, don't you think? Celebrity privacy notwithstanding, she had a certain obligation to disclose. If she needed time to come to terms with her illness, I can see three days, three months … but when it extends way, way beyond that, I'm just puzzled.
Where's the responsibility here, especially when you consider that there are lives to be saved? Even if you've been diagnosed with prediabetes, a condition where your blood glucose (or blood sugar) is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes, there's an opportunity to prevent or delay diabetes. You can lower your risk of getting diabetes by 58 percent by making some simple changes to your lifestyle, like losing weight, exercising, eating low-fat foods and boosting your fiber.
According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, in 2010 there were about 1.9 million people ages 20 or older who were newly diagnosed with diabetes in our country. There's no distinction here between type 1 (the type you cannot reverse) and type 2 here, but no matter. That's still a huge number, especially considering that diabetes is a major cause of heart disease and stroke and the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
As an envoy for eating, an admired TV personality and a brazen hawker of everything from son Bobby's new lower-calorie cooking show to kitchenware, cookbooks and now a diabetes drug (that last one really gets me), it's possible that Deen could have saved some lives by coming clean about her diagnosis early on and showing her admirers how to possibly turn it around and get their blood sugar levels back to normal, instead of saying things like, "I would not want to live in a world without fried pork chops," and, "You know it's a good recipe if it starts with a stick of butter."
And although there's no news about whether or not Deen knew she had pre-diabetes (there are generally no warning signs, although the damage to your heart and circulatory system is already in the works), my suspicion is that she may have known. All it takes is either a fasting glucose test (FPG), oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) or an A1C test.
To me, Deen's irresponsible behavior is akin to a smoker suffering from lung cancer telling millions of her fans it's OK to keep on smoking, all the while demonstrating the best ways to cultivate, flavor and enjoy tobacco and keep on going. And as if Deen wasn't busy enough, she added the title "paid spokesperson" to an already-overflowing resume.
You may also want to read:
21 Easy Ways to Get Diabetes
An Overview of Diabetes