For 10 years, wielding slabs of cream cheese and mounds of mayonnaise, Paula Deen has become TV's self-crowned queen of Southern cuisine and one of the country's most popular chefs, with an empire built on layers of gooey butter cake, fried chicken and sheer force of personality.
On Tuesday, she suddenly unveiled a new career for herself: herald of a healthy lifestyle. In an interview on the Today show on NBC, she revealed — as has long been rumored — that she has Type 2 diabetes, a diagnosis she said she received three years ago. In an interview with the New York Times, she said the delay had been part of a necessary personal journey.
"I wanted to wait until I had something to bring to the table," she said.
Now, Deen, 64, has brought to her own table a multiplatform endorsement deal with Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharmaceutical company that makes Victoza, a noninsulin injectable diabetes medication that she began promoting Tuesday morning. She and her sons Jamie and Bobby (who do not have diabetes) are being paid to spearhead the company's upbeat new public-relations campaign, "Diabetes in a New Light," which advocates using the drug along with eating lighter foods and increasing activity.
Deen said she would not change her lifestyle or cooking style drastically, other than to reduce portion sizes of unhealthful foods.
"I've always preached moderation," she said. "I don't blame myself."
Bobby Deen has a new healthful-cooking show, Not My Mama's Meals, that began last month. Through a spokeswoman, the Food Network denied it knew of Deen's illness before last week.
More than 25 million Americans, or about 8.3 percent, are thought to have diabetes, most of it Type 2 or "adult onset." Like those other cases, Deen's illness was probably caused by any of a number of forces, including excess weight, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and high blood levels of sugar, fat and cholesterol.