Pork-Queen Disasters and Unrelated Infamies: the Paula Deen Debacle

Paula Deen's Face on Smithfield Pork Product

I’ll make this short and sweet, because the subject matter is distasteful no matter how you slice it. But following a week or so of full-throttle media frenzy and public mea culpas, in which Paula Deen’s butter-soaked bacon-wrapped food empire seems to be doing a slow-motion crash-and-burn, the strangest aspect of the Paula Deen scandal seems to be what it isn’t.

If you’ve been doing Real Life lately, maybe out gardening or riding your bike instead of watching the news or surfing the foodie blogosphere, let me bring you up to speed: Paula Deen has been having quite a time lately (bless her heart)! Apparently she and her brother Bubba are facing a major lawsuit, for sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment and such. In the course of legal proceedings, Deen recently admitted to using ‘the N word’ to refer to a person of color with whom she had (pardon the pun) a beef.

Since that admission, she’s lost sponsors left and right. The Food Network dropped her like a hot potato; Target and QVC dumped her; Walmart bailed; and Smithfield no longer wants Deen as spokesperson for their factory-made feaux-Southern-fried-homestyle-ex-pig products, because — are you ready for this?! wait, first swallow your drink so you don’t laugh it out your nose — ‘Smithfield is determined to be an ethical food industry leader’…. bwahahaha! Ah, those (very very creative and) funny guys!

I guess if they can give themselves an environmental award, they can just give themselves another one for ethical behavior, amiright?! Um, yeeeeeeaaaaaah, NO. Like Deen’s deep-fried cheesecake, that spin is a bit rich and fatty for my taste.

But I digress!

While racism goes nicely with the image Deen has so carefully cultivated — I’m from the South myself, and in my experience racism there is still as common as the bacon and grits it’s so often served up with — unfortunately it’s kind of a PR nightmare for Deen and her publicist(s). Since we’re now well and truly moving through the 21st century, here’s the thing: many people find such racist speech (and alleged habits) pretty darn disgusting.

Go figure.

BUT, never fear! Lots of white people apparently LOVE (not only fried food wrapped in bacon and drenched in butter, but also) Paula Deen; and they really super duper don’t mind if she uses the N word. I mean, she’s sorry and all: what do you people WANT from her, anyway?! (tsk, headshake… mmmm, comfort-bacon and fried butter balls!)

I’ve never met Ms. Deen; maybe she’s racist right down to her toes, but maybe she’s just a victim of that darn liberal media. In either case, watching the train wreck that is now her career — mirroring her declining health (which got her a nifty sponsorship, at least! oh wait, nevermind) — it’s hard not to feel bad for her, as a human being struggling through difficult circumstances.

But at the same time, the ongoing public outrage is warranted — though it’s many years late, and largely misplaced.

Racism is a problem, and deserves aversion. Yes. But seriously, you guys: in the midst of an obesity epidemic, when diet drives all our top killer diseases, when so many millions suffer optional debility and early death because of (diet-related) stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer… when atrocities are exposed every single time someone slips a camera into a pig factory, or dairy operation, or CAFO

When everything Ms. Deen’s career was built on compiled the most harmful kitchen habits known to modern humanity: only one question qualifies this fiasco as full-fledged scandal.

What took us so long to name it scandalous?

Image credit: Creative Commons photo by Pickles Halliwell.

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16 thoughts on “Pork-Queen Disasters and Unrelated Infamies: the Paula Deen Debacle”

    1. Thanks, y’all! I think this whole icky business has inspired me to order Cookin’ Crunk: Eating Vegan in the Dirty South… at least that way SOMETHING good will come from the aggro. ;-)

  1. The South is not any more racist than the North . I have seen and encountered much more racism in the North and places like Upstate New York and upper Midwest. The South is just the country’s scapegoat. The South has the largest African American population. The Northeast has hardly any colored people outside of the large cities. More white folk= less racial tension. Sorry, but its true.

    1. Sorry, but that’s not true for me. Obviously I can only speak from my own experience, but I’ve lived and traveled all over the country, and have never ever ever experienced the same level of institutionalized, ‘normalized’ racism as in the Southern delta. Individual racists? Sure, you can find ’em scattered all over the place, if you look. But in terms of how every white person around me (or at least a vast majority) assume I share their racist views, and talk to me like that’s a given fact whenever no minority members are around… ah, yeah, I rate the South pretty high (er, low) on the ‘Places Where Overt Racism Is A Problem’ list. You can tell me that’s not your individual experience, and I’ll believe you; I only know mine. But you can’t possibly convince me I haven’t seen what I have, in fact, seen.

      And it was some really really really prevalent racist nonsense.

      Does that mean there’s nothing good to be found in the South? Of course not. But denying the reality of the racial issues ongoing in that part of the world is just like any other form of denial: unlikely to solve anything at all.

      I respect the fact that other folks’ experiences differ, and always like hearing how others perceive the world; but I’ll also submit for consideration that if you aren’t a member of a minority group, there may be a lot going on in this category of human experience that goes unnoticed by the privileged group. People of color in the South, in other words, may disagree with you. Or maybe not — again, I can only speak from my own experience.

      But as the mom of a multi-racial child, and the aunt of a half-Palestinian niece, I experienced that part of the country as one that very definitely very distinctly very persistently has a very prevalent problem with racism. I’m glad that wasn’t your experience; but it was definitely mine.

      1. I grew up in Virginia, and while I realize that is not the Deep South, its still “Southern” in the sense that. its part of the Old South. I encountered racism from both blacks and whites in Virginia. But the most astounding racism I ever encountered was with dealing with people from Upstate New York and Maine and the Midwest. They call them “n-ggers” up there. The “n” word is not “Southern”. The “n word”- Its a Yankee word, and Southerners never used it until around World War II. Most of our Northern friends (perhaps I should call them acquaintances) were shocked that we let “n-ggers” in our house. But we did, and we always treated everyone equally. But see, in the North, they just don’t have black culture the way we do in the South. They just dont have black farmers or small towns with a lot of black people. That is just unheard of. Up North, most black people are completely urban. Things are even more segregated there. In many places in rural South, blacks outnumber white folk. Its just how it is. But I realize racism in the South, but Im saying that Northerners use racism with more malicious intent. Whereas in the South, perhaps its more a subtle, casual everyday thing. Just my experience, and perhaps yours is different.

        1. The ‘n word’ wasn’t used in the south until WWII?! Are you being serious here, or just joshing?… I know Twain had a great imagination, but lemmetellya: it wasn’t THAT great! Yes, the word was indeed used pre-WWII in the South… I’d be interested to hear about the historical references you’re quoting, that lead you to believe otherwise.

          If you believe that when ‘black folks outnumber white folk’ it must mean white people are less racist, just, wow. That’s not how racism works! White privilege doesn’t depend on numeric majority — ask any apartheid (or slavery or Jim Crow) survivor.

          And I don’t mean ‘perhaps.’

          1. I hear it used much more by people from the North, I never used the word, and no one in my family used it. The disparaging word around these parts was “darkie”. I don’t know about the “n” word. The first time I ever heard it used was a by a Yankee from Illinois. But if you wish to believe the South is the bastillion of racism, then that is your belief. It certainly isn’t mine. You see many more interracial marriages in the South than you ever would in the North. Its just a perception you have about it. I never said that when black people outnumber white folk, it means less racism. I meant it usually means, more. The Northern states have very few black people= less racial tension. And thats just how it has always been.
            I think we’ll have to agree to disgaree

            Thanks for your insight , though!

            1. Well, your experience as a majority member is certainly incongruent with mine, as a member of a family containing minorities. It’s interesting how consistently systemic racism produces that pattern of perception!

              I know a lot of white folks from the south who don’t think racism is a problem — and I’m quite sure it wasn’t/ isn’t a problem for them! I think it’s important to explore the underlying tendency of privilege to interfere with perception.

              Thanks for sharing your thoughts; they’re always welcome. But I stand by my statement that the south has a both a dark history of profoundly prevalent racism, and an ongoing exceptional problem with it. I have seen it myself, and I’m both glad and sorry its continued impact has failed to trouble so many kind (white) people.

              1. apart from the whole discussion of “my experiences vs your experiences,” there is an actual, knowable reality out there about these issues (including but not limited to the long history of the n word in the south which tanya is right both to point out and to be puzzled over having to). ever heard of jim crow, for example? remember the voting rights act that was just gutted by scotus? remember how it was a response to the systemic disenfranchisement of blacks in the south? remember “coloreds only” over water fountains? remember poll taxes and literacy tests (http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2013/06/28/voting_rights_and_the_supreme_court_the_impossible_literacy_test_louisiana.html)? how about the little rock 9? rosa parks, strange fruit, medgar evars? anyone? remember how there’s not a northern equivalent for any of that?
                the idea that “more black people = more racism* (*: except in big cities for some unexplained reason), so the south is simply a victim of demographics” doesn’t make any sense to begin with but then treads further into offensiveness by implying that the fault lies with the minority group for existing near white people. it’s an argument that homogeneity is desirable, and thus an argument that human nature is itself racist, which conveniently excuses racism as somehow natural or rational. (the equivalent is “well of COURSE there’s a lot of rape in the military: women have been allowed in!” i call bullshit.) also, the idea that there is racism coming from black folks is largely absurd: that’s not how racism works. racism is not an individual attitude or choice any more than patriarchy or misogyny is; it is so much bigger than that. it is a social structure, a way of organizing social and political life so as to maintain a dominant group’s privilege. it is a collective logic, not an individual one. individuals can hate groups, sure, and individuals who belong to the privileged group can also suffer from systems that maintain and reinforce his or her own group’s privilege, and some black people may hate white people and so may some white people for that matter. but racism, like patriarchy, is how the dominant group maintains, reinforces, and legitimates its dominance. language is one very potent component of this system, as disempowered groups have always known.
                i also can’t help but notice and be troubled by your use of the phrase “colored people” in the original post. you are clearly white, and clearly oblivious, and clearly have some less-than-savory racial views of your own as well as a knee-jerk defensiveness of southern culture. i’m surprised you didn’t come right out and say “poor paula.” privilege is often blinding, as tanya points out. members of the dominant group are not experts on the experiences of the members of other groups, and when they choose to opine about them publicly that fact tends to become very clear. voices like yours have been the dominant ones for far too long, and they serve to delegitimize the minority voices pointing out that there is, in fact, a problem. you can choose to take that personally, if you want, and you can choose to turn a blind eye, but neither of those solutions does you, or the south, or the actual problem itself any favors.

                1. Okay, what about race riots in NORTHERN CITIES such as Detroit, Chicago, and Boston? Are you saying that black people went North and were greeted by white people with open arms? Be that as it may, the fact remains that Paula Deen is being burned at the stake for a word she used over 30 years ago when an armed black man pointed a gun at her head. And yes, if the “plantation style” wedding was offensive, I’m sure it was said only on jest. The “n” word is used countless times in Rap “music” and by people of various generations, and by various regions. The punishment does not fit the crime. Not to mention the allegations made were by a white employee- Im not saying she can be easily excused, but there is no doubt that someone had an ulterior motive some place.

                  1. I think you’re stretching to defend the indefensible — yes racism exists in other places, but no not in the same way or (in my experience) to the same overwhelmingly normalized degree. Further, if you read this article you probably saw that my whole point is that Paula Deen should rightfully have triggered outrage even before we knew she was a racist — everything about her approach to food is repulsive, to anyone who values health/ sustainability/ nonviolence/ etc… I think it’s really really really telling how so many white southern people assume that when other white folks behave badly they’re being victimized, or that they must have meant it ‘in jest.’ I think that when southern people say ‘BUT WHAT ABOUT THE NORTHERN RACISTS DID YOU EVER THINK ABOUT *THAT*???!!!! THE SOUTH IS NO MORE RACIST THAN ANYWHERE ELSE!!!! *WHAT* N WORD, NEVER HEARD OF IT!!!! PLUS THEY WERE ONLY JOKING!!! PLUS COLORED PEOPLE USE THAT WORD SO IT’S FINE!!!!!!’ …. well, to me it seems like a classic case of ‘methinks thou doth protest too much.’

                    But if you would like to ignore the persistent racism plaguing the past and present of the American south, I am very happy to focus on the plethora of other reasons to avoid any food, product, recipe, or vendor affiliated with Paula Deen. The all-too-typical casual racism that’s causing her problems right now — except among (mostly white, mostly southern) butter-and-bacon lovers, who don’t see any particular problem with it worth mentioning — is a molehill on the side of the mountain.

                    (It’s an ugly little molehill, though, and I see no reason to pretend otherwise.)

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