My friend James Richardson, himself a born and bred southern gentleman, has a justifiably indignant editorial this week at Fox. In it, he reacts to some far less justifiable chest pounding in response to recent news about TV chef Paula Deen. As you’ve probably heard, the southern chef, famous for sweet treats, lots of butter and deep fried goodness, was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Since then, she has pledged to work with a diabetes organization and drawn some fire for becoming a spokesperson for one medicine designed to treat the disease.
But what has Richardson up in arms more than all of that is the blatantly hypocritical response coming from some of the northeastern elite of the foodie world.
Georgia’s down-home diva Paula Deen was this week treated to an unhealthy serving of self-satisfied condescension after she admitted she has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. But nowhere was the response more unsavory than on the New York food scene with its resident lothario Anthony Bourdain leading the assault.
Bourdain, himself a distinguished chef and travel writer, launched a searing critique of Deen for her concurrent announcement she had inked an endorsement deal of a diabetes drug.
“Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later,” Bourdain said Tuesday. He has also previously called Deen the “worst, most dangerous person to America” for her country cooking indulgence. Even 2011 James Beard winner Jose Andres said that Dean should “endorse a vegetable or fruit” instead of a diabetes drug.
But the Bronx cheer for apparent chef-turned-rebel terrorist Deen, a prototypical Southern mother with a lifetime’s recipes of irredeemably deep-fried dishes, is less a reflection of the culinary elitism that runs through Bourdain’s vice-ridden travelogues than the regionalist snobbery that fuels its appeal.
By way of disclosure, I’ll say right up front that I’ve been a fan of Bourdain’s for years. I have at least four of his books, (two autographed) watch his television shows and tweet quotes from him on a regular basis. I don’t care about his politics… I find him entertaining and informative on travel and food subjects. But with that said, I have to agree with James completely.
For Bourdain to come out and be critical of how Deen is handling this challenge is rank hypocrisy. Don’t get me wrong… Tony’s somewhat seedy past, hard drinking, chain smoking (formerly) bon vivant lifestyle, similar in some ways to Chris Hitchens, is part of what made him appealing to me. But the fact is, Bourdain has his own demons to deal with before he begins performing an exorcism on anyone else. He has famously bragged about his history of drug abuse and his unrepentant love for the richest of foods, while showering disdain on vegans and others who live on salads and greens.
This past year, after his doctor had told him that he had cholesterol problems and put him on Lipitor, Bourdain did an entire show on how he had to clean up his eating habits, but defiantly drew the line at giving up pork and all things pig related. And despite talking about needing to lead a healthier lifestyle, on his new show, The Layover, a recent episode showed him staying up with friends at a 24 hour bar and drinking until dawn. (And we’re talking about obviously, heavily intoxicated, near binge level drinking on camera here.)
And – again – if that’s how you want to live your life, I say go for it. I’ll watch and enjoy the antics, jotting down tips on food and drinks. I’m hardly one to talk, being no stranger to regular doses of bacon wrapped scrapple and roughly ten times the number of martinis per year that my doctor would approve of. But if you’re going to carry on that way – particularly after having been called on the carpet by doctors yourself – then you are in far too big of a glass house to be throwing stones at Paula Deen.
Edit: In NYC CIA we spell it “agression”