I have a piece in the Daily Beast on Paula Deen’s “confession” that she has Type 2 diabetes. The belief that one can significantly lessen the risk for developing diabetes by avoiding certain foods has no scientific basis, but since it fits in so well with our general tendency to moralize illness and our specific fear and loathing of both dietary and body fat, it’s extremely commonplace.
The gender dynamics inherent in Anthony Bourdain’s criticisms of Deen are particularly interesting. Bourdain’s books paint a picture of a man who eats exactly what he wants whenever he wants (and what he wants to eat is very often high-fat classic French cuisine), and who has never counted a calorie or “worked out” in his life. On top of that he cheerfully admits to chain smoking, and to much indulgence in his youth in extra-legal recreational pharmacology. But since he’s thin and a man he gets to lecture America about all our supposedly terrible eating habits. It’s amusing to imagine what the likely reaction would be if a fat or average weight or for that matter even thin woman with the same autobiography tried to pull this off.
Deen has diabetes for three reasons: her genes, her age, and her weight. The big myth that drives all the moralizing regarding the latter is that it is somehow significantly more malleable than the former two factors, when in fact it would be more accurate to say that it is a product of them.