If there’s one thing we love to do as a nation, it’s to judge one another for what we eat. This is part of what’s made Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move; Here, Have A Salad” campaign so mesmerizing.
We hate being told what not to eat, what to eat, that we’re too fat or that we’re too skinny. Find a seemingly well-adjusted person and ask about her weight, and nine times out of 10 you are suddenly tangled in a mess of exposed nerves, and everyone involved has to undergo several years of therapy.
When Chris Christie was thinking of entering the GOP presidential race, the commentariat got gleefully fired up to announce that he was too fat — I’m sorry, had too much Avoirdupois For The Nation’s Highest Office. When Kate Middleton walks anywhere, she leaves behind a trail of blog posts opining on whether she is too fat, too thin, pregnant, or all three. A member of Congress recently drew attention to Michelle Obama’s figure in a way that even he admitted was lacking in taste — although he later noted that he stood by his remarks.
And then we get the news about Paula Deen.
Paula Deen, patron saint of butter. Paula Deen, the chef for the rest of us, who subscribes to the Garfield-esque notion that there’s a measure of how good food tastes, and it’s called a calorie. Paula Deen — some of whose recipes literally consist of taking, I think, a Twinkie and deep-frying it in fat — has type-2 diabetes.
Many have cynically observed that it would be more startling if she didn’t. That might imply she was sneaking off when the cameras stopped and stuffing her face with kale.
Is this news? Is this our business? Should we have heard about this before hunkering down to our Krispy Kreme burgers? Was it reasonable of Paula to keep this close to the vest until she wanted to endorse a diabetes drug? Anthony Bourdain tweeted, “ Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later.”
It’s one of those headlines that is almost impossible to discuss without a hint of self-righteousness creeping into one’s tone. “This is what comes of eating what Paula Deen cooks,” we murmur. The trouble is that this is quite true.
It’s been argued that we apply our most stringent morality to food these days. Worship whomever you want, but for God’s sake don’t touch those doughnuts. Do whatever you like in the bedroom, unless it involves a deep fryer.
“But he's a married man!” was never uttered with such icy judgment as the phrase “Those are your arteries you’re ruining.”
Sure, wheel in the golden idol, but forget about the feast afterward. Do you know how many calories are in that fatted calf?
So it’s only natural that this revelation about one of the acolytes of Eat What Tastes Good, Tell The Calories To Stuff It would spark such wide consternation.
It’s a victory for the kale-and-pushups camp. It’s a food-morality tale. Eat what Paula Deen cooks, and look what happens.
Like most modern debates, this one is increasingly waged by entrenched, angry opponents who have become parodies of themselves. On one side, the people on their couches with buckets of fried chicken the size of their heads, yelling at Michelle Obama that she’d better not tell them what to eat, nodding along to Paula Deen.
On the other, nervous, angular folks who are never available to get lunch because they are too busy doing sit-ups, braising wilted leaves of lettuce and attending kettlebell practice, and who sneer if you offer them a perfectly good cheeseball.
Can we never meet in the middle? We know everything about food except how to enjoy it. We know how many calories it contains, whether it’s organic or not, and how to cover it in cheese sauce.
What happened to moderation? It’s nowhere to be found these days. Not in politics or in the kitchen. And if you don’t believe me, consider: Gout is back.
Our food shows up on plates large enough to erect a scale model of the pyramids at Giza in mashed potatoes, with room on the side for a hash brown Colossus of Rhodes. You could serve six heads of John the Baptist on one. That, or we eat 80-calorie yogurt out of brown paper cups while dashing home to eat heirloom tomatoes in the half-hour window before they expire. “Did you know you can make cake without sugar, butter or flour?” we say.
If only we knew how to stop. Does anyone? I think there’s a guy who does, but he lives in France.
Those who live by the sword often die by the sword. Those who live by the butter —