Paula Deen, her diabetes, my diabetes and the responsibility of the microphone

Turk Hill Rd leading away from Casa Larga Vineyards is a very steep hill, and I felt like I was falling.

My wife and I had decided to spend a little time at our local vineyard, just to waste a little time tasting wines and chatting with people on an otherwise-uneventful Saturday afternoon. But as we sipped wine, I noticed with alarm that my hand was shaking again. You see, the glimiperide that I’d recently been prescribed for my recently-diagnosed diabetes causes this shaking when my blood sugar gets low. We had to leave, and quickly.

At this point in my diagnosis, this shaking was a major red flag and of course, I’d left my meter at home. I had no idea at what level my blood sugar was. I was once again without control. I was panicking.

My life at this point was full of red flags. One hour, I might be sitting down and feeling like I was covered in heavy motor oil. My blood sugar would be well over 300 and I’d be beating myself up for my lack of self-control; hating myself for my irresponsibility; screaming into the void because no one can change the fact that the body I used to take for granted now requires constant surveillance and a team of doctors to keep running. At 34.

The next hour, my blood sugar would reach dangerously-low levels, my hands shaking, suffering with anxiety and panic attacks – to this day, a constant and unwelcome companion. And in my unstable condition at the time, there seemed to be a very real possibility that I really could have slipped into a coma.

My wife did the best she could for me. My family did they best they could for me. I did the best I could for myself, however much I hated myself at the time. We really could have used some help.

That was three years ago. It now turns out that, at the same time, Paula Deen was getting the same diagnosis. We’re just finding this out, now that she has (maybe?) become a spokesperson for some sort of diabetic medication. Three years. At first, it was hard to qualify just what it was that got under my skin about this.

I could easily identify with Anthony Bourdain’s criticisms. There is no question that, irrespective of her own health condition or mine, the food that she’s been encouraging people to eat is just disgusting. And an affront to the South with which I have no particular affiliation, but which even I know is not the land of cheeseburgers in doughnut buns. Had she been as healthy as a thoroughbred on race day, she would still have a debt to pay our society for the bilge she’s foisted on well-meaning people just trying to educate themselves about food.

I could be angry that she’s using her diagnosis to profit. Or maybe she is, though Novartis now denies that fact. But the truth is, I don’t begrudge anyone the ability to make a profit. Especially off such a common illness: if you can educate people and make money, that seems to be the perfect fit for “good works.” It seems to me that waiting to announce your condition until the contract is signed is a bit dishonest and unscrupulous, somehow. But the profit? I don’t mind that.

No, in the end, what really goads me is that my moment on the top of Turk Hill Road and so many others over the years have completely changed my world. They’ve completely changed my way of thinking. They’ve completely changed food for me. Nothing is or will ever be the same again. My diabetes and my general health are now a constant subliminal hum, if I may borrow from William Gibson. Even if dealing with my condition is now old-hat and merely a rational decision rather than the constant freak-out of the past, no meal is eaten without considering my sugar levels.

But nothing, nothing, nothing whatsoever changed about Paula Deen. I’m sure things changed about Paula Deen the woman, but the persona we saw on television for the last three years? Same shitty food. Same “budder, ohl and baicin” recipes that clog your arteries, swamp your system with carbohydrates and generally fuck up your health and lead to the very same Type II diabetes that she has.

While her team of doctors – whom I have no doubt are the best money can buy – hastily arranged her life to fit the healthier style we all aught to be following, she marched her viewers lemming-like to the top of that very same hill I found myself on. Why? How is that even possible? Her world and her livelihood is food. How can that not change radically?

To be clear: no one understands the need for privacy with something like this better than I do. I don’t expect her to immediately shout to the world that she has an illness. Not at all. And I understand that perhaps there are pressures of being a TV food host whose “cuisine,” such as it is, drives a lot of sales for the Food Network. But I am genuinely disturbed by the idea that a person can go through the radical changes I did and not have it reflect in their work, especially when that work is about food.

An opportunity was lost, here. The opportunity to let the process that she and I both have had to go through be a means to help others back down off that hill. Instead, we have three years of silence and then – presto, change-o – a healthy-living Paula Deen who hawks medicine for the condition she “suffers from.” Hell, anybody can stand in front of a camera and sell product. Paula, you had a responsibility as a host and a diabetic. And you skipped over the hardest part.