In January, Southern cooking queen Paula Deen — who's known for recipes like deep-fried butter and burgers with doughnuts as buns — revealed that she'd been living with type 2 diabetes for years. Public outrage ensued. Since then, she's stayed busy trying to help confused fans reconcile her famous lowcountry cooking with a healthier way of living.
She addressed this at a recent New York City Wine & Food Festival event, a TimesTalk hosted by The New York Times and moderated by Kim Severson. During the forthright (and at times bizarre) conversation, I was surprised to learn a number of surprising facts about Paula.
- She was in denial about having diabetes. Paula, who sees her doctor twice a year, went to three checkups before admitting that she really had diabetes. "When she told me I was diabetic, I thought . . . baloney. It was that half a cake I had yesterday. Nobody in my family has diabetes, and they all eat the same way. I went through denial, fear, and anger," she told the audience.
- She looked for a sign from above before making her big announcement. "I don't go to church, but I'm a very spiritual person," Paula said. That's why she kept her diabetes under wraps from the public for so long: "I knew when the time was right to show it, it would come to me."
- Paula's lost 40 pounds, and her husband 60. "I discovered that I was consuming one cup of sugar a day from sweet tea alone, so I gave up sweet tea," she said.
- She doesn't actually eat fried chicken all that much. "The key to managing diabetes is moderation," Paula said. "I eat fried chicken once every six weeks, not every week."
- Her favorite exercise is walking. After acknowledging that "you can't live at 50 the way you did at 20," Paula started exercising. "I couldn't talk the talk without walking the walk," Paula said of her healthier lifestyle. "I'm 65 years old so I'm not going to be doing that P290 stuff. But I can walk."
- She has full faith in the people of the South. "I feel like the South is almost less prejudiced because black folks played such a part in our lives . . . They were like family," she said.
- She doesn't talk politics. Despite being pressed by Kim, Paula would not answer questions about her political inclinations. "That is something I keep to myself," she maintained.
- She's just like us. On her day off, Paula admitted that she sits on the sofa in her bathroom to watch TV — and play Angry Birds and Words With Friends.