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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Paula Deen: The message and the market

Paula D.The implosion of Paula Deen’s empire continues with today’s announcement that Caesar’s will close four of her casino restaurants. Additionally, Wal-Mart stores will no longer place orders for her branded items. These developments follow the termination of her Food Network contract and her lucrative promotion with Smithfield Foods once details of a court deposition surfaced that suggested racial insensitivity, if not outright racism, on her part.

During this week of Paula’s downfall, there has been no shortage of online Schadenfreude but also no shortage of outrage from her fans, who feel she got a bum deal. Respected Southern cooks have taken the opportunity to voice the opinion that her sugar-saturated, butter-drenched shtick has little to do with the actual repertoire or techniques of Southern cooking. If she were to really teach people about traditional Southern cooking, she’d stash the deep fryer and take out some garden produce and canning jars.

The legacy of racism in the South and the presence of racism everywhere have given fodder to editorial writers. People who used to only know Deen as that maniacally smiling face from supermarket checkout line magazines now parse video clips of her on the subject of race. In an interview with New York Times Atlanta bureau chief Kim Severson, Deen fondly describes her assistant as “black as that board,” pointing to a black stage backdrop, and then jokes that no one can see him standing in front of it.

But I think the most telling news has been that her ratings after 11 years at the Food Network had fallen off substantially, and her contract was already under review. America may already have had enough of Paula Deen and her take on Southern cooking. The market dictates what is popular on food television, and the market may have said, “Enough.”

As a non-Southerner who has written about this food for the past 15 years, I’ve seen the country’s attitude toward this region turn at least a couple of times. I was frankly shocked when I first moved here by how routinely the country’s food trust snickered at the South. One famous and universally beloved food writer came to town to promote a book and found every single thing he ate here too sweet or too salty. He approached each meal with bemused exasperation and quietly told me, “I don’t know how you can live here.”

That attitude was common: Southerners had a coarse palate, an addiction to sugar and salt. I opined that the convenience-food revolution of the previous decades had been hard on the South, but it had been hard on other poorer regions of the country, as well. I got snippy with one visiting New York food writer who pulled the “Southern food is so unhealthy” line. “Have you ever eaten in New Jersey?” I countered. “Or Albany?” Outside of select urban markets and a few areas where people lived closer to the land (Northern California and Vermont, e.g.) American food everywhere had suffered decades of degradation.

It was into this atmosphere that Deen began charming television audiences with those “y’alls” that she cold stretch into six syllables. Southern food is unhealthy? Well, that’s just too bad, she seemed to be saying. If something tastes good, I’m not making any apologies.

Emeril was bamming merrily along, and the Food Network appealed to regular people, countering the tacit snobbery against the high-fat, high-calorie dishes that many Americans took comfort in.

The message proved to be appealing, empowering and — contrary to expectation — universal enough that even the foodies came on board. Don’t make apologies for flavor.

Here’s where the South repaired its image, by laying claim to classic American dishes — fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and even pimento cheese (which my niece grew up with in Nebraska and has always considered a Midwestern treat). Use good ingredients and techniques handed down from generations of good family cooks. Southern food is the most quintessential of American cooking, and Paula Deen has always known this.

This plump, funny lady had a gift for self caricature, and she was happy to take her typical Junior League cookbook recipes and turn them into parodies of themselves. Did she really love every bite of deep fried cheesecake and Krispy Kreme bread pudding? Who knows? The job of food TV hosts is to bite, make the yummy face and say a lots and lots of dishes taste great. You may hate Paula Deen and love Anthony Bourdain, but in the end of the day they’re both giving happy reaction shots to foods they may or may not actually like. (Is Bourdain going to walk into some poor village woman’s kitchen and say her stew needs salt?)

The nation’s assessment of Southern food has shifted again in recent years. Once a land of unhealthy food nightmares, then a place to get really good fried chicken and cornbread, the South has lately become something of an American culinary beacon. Everyone understands that the connection to the agrarian past is stronger here, the repertoire of recipes is broader and the culinary traditions more intact than in most other places. As Nathalie Dupree so smartly observed recently, the South is the new Italy when it comes to food. Paula Deen did not come along for this latest development.

Could you imagine Paula Deen headlining the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival? Could you imagine her being welcome at it?

I’m not a fan of Paula Deen’s cooking or of her “more butter” message. (I’m not a fan of the “more meat” message that hipster foodies promote either. All good things in moderation.)

But here’s my cynical point: Paula Deen imploded for reasons far beyond her troublesome deposition transcript. It’s because her message is no longer relevant, and the market stepped in. For 11 years the market wanted her, and now it doesn’t.

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

157 comments Add your comment

Jacquie

June 26th, 2013
6:21 pm

You hit the nail on the head, John!

charles

June 26th, 2013
6:32 pm

I say we go ahead and execute her. Would a public hanging be appropriate? This is biggest over reaction to a comment I have ever heard. People say things they wish they could take back, but most people are big enough to forgive, forget, and move on. What is wrong with you people? (I guess saying you people will get me labeled racist.)

Brace4impactz

June 26th, 2013
6:38 pm

I felt all along that she (especially as a diabetic) was being dropped because of her recipe choices and style. Heck, even Al Sharpton is defending her over the n-word controversy. There is also no outrage in the Black community, probably because Deen had a lot of fans there. Her food was simply unhealthy, even if it was delicious.

Ned Ludd

June 26th, 2013
6:39 pm

Being a racist is abominable and unforgivable. Having had racist comments in the past, acknowledging and sincerely apologizing for them is not. Jesse Jackson was certainly not similarly castigating for calling New York “Hymietown”–which he qualified by stating he thought it was off the record. Don’t care for her or her ‘cook what others think is Southern’ repertoire, but sure seems as if her punishments are way more severe than her crime.

MattyB

June 26th, 2013
6:43 pm

John,
That was a fantastic article – really enjoyed reading it. You make lots of great points, but one I have to differ on is that there is no more market for Paula. Maybe not so much in Virginia HIghlands, but you can bet that plenty of DVRs in Kennesaw will continue to record every re-run they can get their hard drives on. Those of us who were raised in the South, helping our grandmothers mix cake batter and season the flour for the fried chicken from a step stool from the time we could stand, will always have a palate for that which we were raised on. And I’ll also bet you this….in due time, those re-runs will begin to quietly reappear on the Food Network itself.

sangee

June 26th, 2013
6:45 pm

Enter your comments here

Emjays

June 26th, 2013
6:46 pm

Here, here! As a transplant but very much a southerner, I couldn’t have said it better. I am regularly shocked at how ignorant people are to level of expertise in this region and to the tapestry that is southern cuisine. Lastly, your comment about Bourdain, et al., reminds me of the Michael Corleone line, “We are all apart of the same hypocrisy, Senator…”

Kim Huffman

June 26th, 2013
6:46 pm

I think I will go eat some lardo at a Mario Batalli restaurant, or a cream/butter concoction at Le Cirque or Ducasse. The fact that a NYC or SF restaurant can fill me with fat makes me feel better than when Paula does it…classier and snobbier that way.
There is class and regional warfare going on, Northerner’s still don’t like Southerners, and despise and up by the bootstrap Southern women and their successes, that didn’t need their media or money to do it.

Curious George

June 26th, 2013
6:50 pm

Why do we never, ever read stories, op-ed pieces and/or blog entries on AJC.com or in the AJC paper edition about African-American racists using racial slurs, telling racist jokes or belittling other demographics with a lighter skin tone than their own?

Curious George

June 26th, 2013
6:54 pm

If The AJC has the audacity to start calling any other entity “no longer relevant” in 2013, isn’t this a classic case of introducing Mr. Pot to Mr. Kettle?

sangee

June 26th, 2013
6:55 pm

Timov, some people find the word cracker as bad as saying the n word. Please remove it from your vocabulary. An example, my kids have been called crackers without anyone, including any adult, correcting those people, children and even an adult, when this word was used. I consider this word to be racist and very hurtful to people, mostly innocent children. I am sure you did not mean anything hurtful, but it is.

Kim Huffman

June 26th, 2013
6:59 pm

We are told at a young age to pay attention to what a person does, not what they say….Paula is one of the most philanthropic people in Savannah, and her support of Bethesda Boys Home, endless food and blood drives and many other anonymous ventures are never talked about, as well as the encouragement she has given other aspiring chefs, etc.
As for the “FoodNetwork”…they profited mightily by her and Emeril..,essentially making that network that has turned into nothing more than another outlet for “reality” trash…Cupcake Wars anyone?……

Just wanted to point out...

June 26th, 2013
7:13 pm

I really think that this whole situation is unfortunate. But if she is the terrible person this lawsuit makes her out to be, why haven’t more employees come out of the woodwork? That, along with her work with Bethesda Boys Home (and even Atlanta charities…..remember when she got hit with the face with the ham? Wasn’t that a charity event?), etc seem to be lost in the mix. Should she face some scrutiny and punishment? YES. Is this a little bit over the top? YES.

Does America love a comeback? YES. She will be back.

A in Atl

June 26th, 2013
7:21 pm

REALLY!? And the MAYOR of Atlanta….who has a fiasco- with every piece of significant infrastructure falling apart.– with every major financial issue crumbling..has the time to be YOUR headline about an insignificant…probably exaggerated and distorted comment??? And what about EVERY SINGLE popular black comedian and actor who has used the word she is accused of using once or twice..MULTIPLE times in MULTIPLE public scenarios???? A term they know is despised..and should be.. in their OWN communities.. but still use it freely?

Trisha Doherty

June 26th, 2013
7:24 pm

timov, stop talking about your mother that way

OSG

June 26th, 2013
7:25 pm

As an African American female,the punishment did not fit the crime. After all, Paula was truthfully answering questions under oath. I forgive her on that one. However I feel that Paula should have been fired nearly two years ago when she failed to disclose her diabetes, and yet, kept heaping on the butter, and then cackling about the delicious artery clogging meals. She could have easily solved this problem by cooking her “southern cuisine”, and then directing her viewers to her website if they wanted a diabetic or low fat alternative to these meals. I would have respected her for that. But to lie, and then become the spokeswomen for a pharmaceutical company promoting their brand of insulin, she was a hypocrite, and I lost respect for her. I agree with Mr. Kessler, Food Network was looking for a way out with Paula, her viewership had dropped – probably because of the diabetic misinformation, and she provided the opportunity for them to part ways, albeit under weak circumstances.

partlycloudy

June 26th, 2013
7:42 pm

She’s in contempt of federal magistrate for not turning over a gross blooper tape she made and showed to employees and friends. That tape will be revealing.

And her interview with Lauer, wow! She cannot say the words African American, and she said she will not change. She’s defiant even when crying. And if you have taken any psychology courses where you studied body language, you can tell she’s really lying.
And of course she knew she had diabetes for 3 yrs while she still pushed foods that kill you. Then she got the deal with a diabetes drug to hawk it. A fraud she is.

Don

June 26th, 2013
7:45 pm

Paula is just a nice lady from the south who meant no harm. And that’s a big problem, these days.

cpa jones

June 26th, 2013
7:46 pm

Timvo, obviously you are white,. you are the most ignorant person on this post. The past is the past, you are the kind of people that inflame these issues because you are a small minded little redneck. Most true southerners are way past the N word and live like Dr King envisioned. God help your family and friends

TruthSpoken

June 26th, 2013
7:49 pm

#brokenknuckle I assure you “ALL” blacks or all of anything do not, say, believe, or act a certain way. Do all whites say cracker, redneck, or white trash? Do “all” whites watch honey boo boo each week? Do “all” whites know each other, like each other, live by each other, or have the same political beliefs? You are a “brokennuckle racist that probably have never spoken, lived near or even had a meal with a black person. A racist or bigot is the only type of person that can say “all” when it comes to a whole race of people. By the way, I have never used the N word, neither was it allowed in my family, and no one in my circle of influence dare use it. In the future, only refer to what you know which is pure unadulterated “racism.”

Trisha Doherty

June 26th, 2013
7:58 pm

As if food network gives the tiniest little damn if youi all choke and die on her food..so long as you watch..but America’s culture is imploding to the least common denominator..reality tv..and it is cheaper to produce utter crap like reality tv than real scripted TV with sets..thats why she was dropped..not because of health.

TruthSpoken

June 26th, 2013
8:01 pm

#Curious George – Black people do not grow up telling and hearing racist jokes about other people. That is white kids hall of frame. I went to an all white private school, and all day long the kids told racist jokes about blacks, polish, and jews. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they could know those joke, and so many at such a young age. Now that I’m older, I know. Either they heard them at home. Their parents gave them a book with the jokes, or their parents actually taught them the jokes. I’m 50 year old. Besides comedians on tv, I have never heard a family member, friend, or associate sit around and tell racist jokes. Matter of fact, I’m not even into jokes, so I know #Curious George you do not have a “real” relationship with any black people. Because if you did, I promise you we do not have time to sit around and tell jokes, let alone racist jokes. We are too busy being Presidents, taking over golf, tennis, baseball, basketball, buying property, educating ourselves, and starting and running business. George, my man, you don’t know us at all.

Trisha Doherty

June 26th, 2013
8:01 pm

Paula supported obama so normally I’d say let her rot and die, but I refuse to let the PC thought police win. Being anti gay marriage or somehow offending a minority does not make you wrong or bad. If other people are thinned skinned, so what, let ‘em whine, I am not changing to please anyone and neither should she. Rule#1 for a happy life..NEVER apologize to ANYONE for ANYTHING..and if someone is offended by something you do or say, F ‘em!

Trisha Doherty

June 26th, 2013
8:03 pm

@truthspoken

All those unemployed black men (29% black adult male unemployment) may not be telling racist jokes, but they damn sure ain’t working..except at rolling a blunt and watching sportscenter.

mamaj

June 26th, 2013
8:09 pm

” I is what I is, and I ain’t changing”, says a lot about Paula.I have never seen such a contrived bunch of mess in my life. Those alligator tears were as fake as her hair extensions And @ ‘Brace4impactz’, what makes you think that the Black community is not outraged over her comments? It was the Black community that she offended. Surely you don’t think it’s all just the ‘good white folks’ slamming her do you? I was a fan also, but no more. Give the Black community some credit. We are quite capable of realizing when and if we need to step in and defend ourselves, and we don’t need anyone prompting us, like we need to wait for someone to give us the green light to go ahead and do so.

Trisha Doherty

June 26th, 2013
8:12 pm

How many black folks watch food network anyway? Its not like they make fried chicken a lot on good eats or Giada makes chitlin parmesian

As Shakespear once said...

June 26th, 2013
8:19 pm

…”Much ado about nothing”…

The right thing

June 26th, 2013
8:33 pm

You’ve got to be kidding me? The black community is “downing” this woman who was robbed at gunpoint in a bank, used the “N” word, had nightmares over that and probably has used it again (don’t know – doesn’t matter). Yet the “black community” thinks it is “okay” that Trayvon Martin told his friend “Rachel (who was on the cell phone with him)” – who reported such on the stand today in court – when she asked what Zimmerman looked like Trayvon Martin said “a scary ass_ _ _ _ cracker!” Let’s get one thing straight – “BOTH ARE WRONG!” Yet the black community sees nothing wrong with Trayvon Martin speaking this way….why??? That goes against everything they claim to “hate.” Until people in this country start taking responsibility, quit being one-sided – there simply is no hope for all races to live amenably together. That mindset is what gets our black youth in trouble and gives them “no hope.” Please stop it now, including the media which plays a huge role in this. I think we all could take a few “cues” from the Jewish community who – the majority – pull together, raise their families, express their freedom of religion, and go ahead and build better lives for themselves and futures for their children……they refused to be victims and historically have taught individual accountability…all people can learn from that…..

People want to jump on the bandwagon depending on which side of the aisle they are on, make names for themselves, beef up their ratings, or their organizations’ name. There should not be a side…..simply the aisle. If we can stay focused on that as a people of our country then yes – we have “hope.”

What is going on in this fine country of ours right now is sickening and all people of all races have got to face themselves and start asking themselves “who am I?”…..

brokenknuckle

June 26th, 2013
8:35 pm

Truthspoken I have a black male coworker everyday calling his wife on the phone telling her she is stupid stupid lazy nig–er..He does not want her to work so they can draw food stamps nor does he want to work over time because it will affect his food stamps.he drives into the parking blasting thumping his rap music to the words nigg-er, bit–es, whor-es .Sorry if reply to your post is over your head truthspoken, go eat another idiots sandwich.

For Truth Spoken

June 26th, 2013
8:51 pm

Give us a break – do you really think anyone believes such??? ME THINKS YOU PROTEST TOOOOO MUCH!!

Stephanie

June 26th, 2013
9:07 pm

Great article John. I think people are over her now.
This was the last straw for many. The diabetes cover up and drug co. fiasco did it for me.

SnottyNoze Bratt

June 26th, 2013
9:20 pm

The ajc is culpable of high profile, career killing discrimination in that = you ceaselessly paste your pages with and PROMOTE racist kanye west and innumerable other black artists who are not guility of racism years ago but now.

if boycotting is the thing to do I guess I can find better things to do with my time than read a racist media outlets posts.

Savannah Teacher

June 26th, 2013
9:22 pm

Great article! Really says what a lot of people are thinking.

Julie Painter

June 26th, 2013
9:22 pm

Paula Deen should not be punished for speaking her mind. Blacks call each other racially negative terms all the time and no one gets upset about that. After all, Obama’s preacher was shown on TV spewing hatred against whites and nothing happened to him. He didn’t lose his tax exempt status, he wasn’t sanctioned or arrested for making racial comments. So why should Ms. Deen be punished? I, for just one of many, am getting sick of this double standard.

Chem_Boy

June 26th, 2013
9:25 pm

This all just seems like piling on now. She said she was sorry… move on. She’s almost 70 years old, and product of a different time. The only thing we all really know for sure is that she really sucks at damage control.

Ellen

June 26th, 2013
9:27 pm

I am a 40-something black woman born in the South. I was raised by black people, have a black family and grew up in a black working class neighborhood. We did not use the n-word. Period. We did not tell racist jokes about ourselves or other people. Some of us cursed like sailors, but to imply that all black people go around calling each other the n-word when white people aren’t looking is highly insulting and terribly misguided. Just become some comedian or rapper uses the n-word in their entertainment repertoire does not mean that it’s common place for black people. I am actually more disturbed by Paula’s well-documented nostalgia for slavery. Do people feel that kind of nostalgia for say, the Holocast?

SnottyNoze Bratt

June 26th, 2013
9:27 pm

truth spoken – thanks for the biggest laugh of the day.. Taking over – love it. Be a big change from every days news. How about the man who shot a two year old in a botched mugging? One of hundreds in atlanta alone. Education is a fine thing to aspire to. But as for taking over – I guess that’s the attitude one needs to shoot a baby.

Julie Painter

June 26th, 2013
9:30 pm

Let’s be honest here. Travon Martin, was a punk kid with a criminal record, he was not that innocent looking little kid the media propagated and he had no business wandering around a neighborhood he did not live in, wearing a hoodie no less, late at night. The neighborhood had already had several break-ins and robberies and had every right to have an active neighborhood watch. If his parents were so concerned about his welfare, why weren’t they giving him a ride home? If he had left that neighborhood right away instead of mouthing off, this never would have happened in the first place. I blame his parents….

mike

June 26th, 2013
9:33 pm

I was born and raised in NYC until the age of 18, and promptly left due to the high degree of racism. I’m of asian decent. When i came down to Atlanta, in ‘95, The very fist thing i noticed was the lack of racism. I didn’t have Italians yelling at me out of their camaros calling me “chink, gook, and god knows what else.” I find, as a minority, atlanta, and the south in general more accepting than my counterparts to the north. I also find the spectrum of cousins to be better in the south and the people more friendly with exception of african americans. aint that funny? The whites down here are far more tolerant of the color of my skin and shape of my eyes than the african americans. Aint that something.

mike

June 26th, 2013
9:37 pm

most blacks i meet say, “wow, your english be good, where you from, China?” Whites down here have never said that to me. I’m so tired of the political correctness being forced upon the one group that finds me tolerable. I do a lot of business with both groups and find African Americans are far more racist, not even close than any other group other than spainards, and middle easterners.

Carrie

June 26th, 2013
9:39 pm

Mike – Asians, like Cubans, are Honorary White People in the South. Or didn’t you know that?

mike

June 26th, 2013
9:39 pm

BTW, i love southern food!

Mary Louise

June 26th, 2013
9:40 pm

Julie Painter – Bless your heart.

For Mike

June 26th, 2013
9:43 pm

Right on Mike! Go to kaiserfoundation.org and pull up the ratio of blacks living in Northern states versus blacks living in Southern states (compared to their population). If the South is so horrible then why are the majority of blacks living here versus the North? The reason so many blacks have been able to come to the South and prosper is because of the “majority” of the people being welcoming people – no matter the race. So “thank you” Mike for acknowledging such…..seems to be a rather “large oversight” by most…..

For Julie Painter

June 26th, 2013
9:48 pm

Yes – his own Mother kicked Trayvon out of her house because she could no longer “handle him.” But what is so very sad and tragic is he should have had a better shot at life and for that I blame his parents also. Children do not ask to be brought into this world and they deserve our very best. They deserve to be nutured, to stand by them, show them the right way, keep the family intact, and show them accountability and stability. For “The Right Thing” – I think you hit the nail on the head!!

BARBARA

June 26th, 2013
10:05 pm

I think this is much to do over nothing!!
I bet you nobody in this world old enough to know right from wrong hasn’t said SOMETHING you wish you could take back!! geezzz look what kardashians say and say on tv…nobody blinks an eye! what she said wasn’t good but it wasn’t as bad as you people act like !! Good God get a life!! and leave Paula dean alone!

Quira

June 26th, 2013
10:11 pm

I have no idea what all black people do. What a foolish notion. But I do know this..pretending that black racism does not exist, is not prevalent or common is foolish. Paula Deen has been held to a standard that not many people, black or white could measure up against.
Her ultimate crime is not what she said 30 years ago but is rather that she is a old, white southern woman. She is being stoned by hypocrites, guilty themselves of the same crimes for which they pretend outrage.

Baltisraul.....

June 26th, 2013
10:19 pm

A better and more fitting punishment for Paula would be for The Food Network to make her do one of those cup cake wars shows. That is a real career killer!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bernie

June 26th, 2013
10:25 pm

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