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June 21, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Is Paula Deen racist? Speaking up in her defense

Celebrated chef Paula Deen (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri)

Celebrated chef Paula Deen
(AP Photo/Carlo Allegri)

 Update: The Food Network confirmed Friday that it will not renew mega chef Paula Deen’s contract at the end of June. The decision came after Deen apologized for using racial epithets in the past. Network executives obviously talked to a few big advertisers and decided riding out the overblown controversy was not worth the financial costs.

There are many reasons to turn away from Deen.  In an era when no one should be ignorant to the fiscal and health costs of unhealthy eating, Deen has built a profitable empire atop a mound of butter, fat and sugar.

I was not surprised when Deen announced she had Type 2 diabetes. I was surprised she was still alive. I’ve always pictured her arteries as clogged roadways where nearly nothing gets through. At some point, even the oxygen gives up.

People have been muttering angrily about Deen since she combined her diabetes diagnosis with a lucrative endorsement of a drug used to treat it.

Now she’s jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire after  admitting in a legal deposition to using racial epithets. A former manager at Deen’s restaurants in Savannah, Ga., is suing Deen and her brother for sexual and racial harassment, saying that Deen tolerated racist jokes. Suddenly, an adoring nation has erupted in furor. Social media has been the biggest outlet for the “Paula Deen is a racist” crowd. On Twitter, #paulasbestdishes is meant sarcastically, not a resource for her Southern food recipes.

Only Deen knows if she harbors racist views. The rest of us ought to do one thing: Note the context of reports about her. She had used racial epithets. Decades ago. Indeed, her company released a statement underscoring the time in American history when Deen used a racial epithet:

“She was born 60 years ago when America’s South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus. This is not today.”

Deen is from the South, where racism was a way of life. I do not think she is a racist. I do think she is a product of her environment. As we all are.

Want to punish Deen? Do it, but don’t do it because she’s been wrongly branded a racist.  Do it because you are rejecting her attempts to kill you with recipes like a cheeseburger patty stuffed between two doughnuts. That is not a burger, it is a death sentence. Deen’s Better than Sex cake made with cake mix, pudding mix and heavy cream ought to be better than sex. Eating like that will sap the most amorous among us of energy and desire.

Deen cancelled an exclusive interview Friday with “Today” show host Matt Lauer and later in the day released a videotaped national apology replete with reasons why she should not carry the scarlet letter, R.

Deeds matter more to me. When Deen is ready to convert some of her famed Southern recipes to conform with low-fat diets, I’ll be ready to watch.

Comments | Topics: food, race

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