I love Paula's personality, I love her jovial laugh and I love listening to her outrageous stories told with that southern twang. But I don't love her cooking and I don't love her cavalier perspective on food (or health for that matter). For years, she has championed butter, sugar, and refined pre-packaged shortcuts as a way of life.
She admittedly adds more butter to a dish for the pure sake of adding more butter. She glorifies fat as the primary means for achieving scrumptious food. She brazenly extolls how few healthful foods (like vegetables) she eats, frequently joking that a sprig of mint is her idea of a veggie. And let's not even talk about the potentially more troubling over-reliance on refined and pre-processed ingredients like canned cheese sauce, tubs of whipped toppings, jars of mayonnaise, boxed crackers, cans of biscuits, prepared pie dough, etc.
And for years Paula told viewers it was good home-cooking: best dishes from "my kitchen to yours".
Is Paula responsible for my health? Of course not. Is Paula responsible for setting a good example? I suppose not. Is it wrong for Paula to collect millions of dollars for first teaching viewers how to make fat-laden foods of which a steady diet would likely result in diabetes AND then to later also collect millions by subsequently championing new "lighter" cooking for diabetics?
I have to haul out my soapbox and drag out love to answer that question.
Love is what should motivate us all. Love for our own body's health, love for the health of people we cook for, love for the people who listen to our messages and emulate our behaviors. If we're not motivated by love (but rather by money, reputation, personal ambitions, popularity, clicks etc), everything eventually unravels. Money doesn't bring love or health, reputations crumble, personal ambitions rarely live up to expectations and popularity is fleeting.
Without love, we've got nothing.
I'm not the arbitrator of love and I frequently fall down on the love job - in fact, I'm sure we all do because we're human. But when we see love get trampled, it's an opportunity to re-evaluate our own motivations.
As I listen to Paula's message, I don't hear love. I hear pandering. Sure, Paula's offering lighter alternative recipes (a very positive step in the right direction), but she doesn't admit to any fault of her own, she doesn't encourage viewers to restrain their intake of her previously published recipes, and she doesn't express any genuine concern for her own health. In fact, she admits she doesn't plan to change her lifestyle at all (well, aside from quitting sweet tea). Maybe it's just me, but her message sounds an awful lot like someone motivated by reputation, popularity, and money - disguised behind a sweet, southern veneer.
I can hear the hate mail already. You're right - Paula is not responsible for my health or my perception of her TV messages. You're right - I shouldn't judge Paula's motivations because I haven't lived her life.
If Paula loves me (and her other countless viewers), she should respect my health (and her own) enough to encourage me to learn from dietary mistakes and make REAL dietary changes. She should admit a steady diet of her recipes could result in diabetes. She should immediately add intros to her Food Network shows (and reruns) reminding users her recipes are NOT for daily indulgence. And she should add a foreword at the beginning of her cookbooks to reflect her love and respect for her viewers' health - and encourage them to seek out healthful recipes.
Yet in truth, this post shouldn't be about Paula at all - it should be a wake-up call for all of us. In the rush to develop delicious, reliable recipes, it's easy to eliminate the love from our cooking and instead focus on results. It's easy (and legal) to put the onus of health back on our readers and viewers - but it's not the loving or right thing to do.
Before writing this post, I went back to the very first posts I ever wrote for this blog - and felt the shameful reminder my own serious shortfalls and pathetic motivations. Instead of keeping the focus on love and the expression of love through food, I'm frequently guilty of obsessing over results and followers. I AM NOT GOING TO BE THAT PERSON.
My advice for Paula really should be directed at myself, not her. To be blunt, most of my recipes are comfort foods and so include unhealthful quantities of fat and sugar. Who am I to point fingers at Paula?!
Thus, out of respect and love for the health of my readers, I am updating ALL of my recipes with reminders to exercise restraint. To take love one step further, I am adding a similar cautionary statement at the beginning of all Food Fetish Friday posts. I am also renewing my efforts to eliminate fat and refined sugars from my recipes whenever possible. Because maybe the onus is on my readers, but love compels me to take action regardless of consequence.
If all of this sounds preachy and self-centered - I guess it might be, but it's really about sharing my perspective in hopes that it might provoke your thoughts. I genuinely believe love is what's missing - sometimes it just takes a celebrity scandal and a bit of introspection to recognize I'm the one ignoring love.