Southern comfort food queen Paula Deen took a beating last week when she revealed she has Type 2 diabetes, three years after her diagnosis, and an endorsement deal with diabetes drugmaker Novo Nordisk.
Listening to the fallout from the Food Network personality's announcement, a person might think all Southerners eat is fried chicken, Twinkie pie and bacon-and-fried-egg-topped burgers between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
Not so, say Southern chefs and cookbook authors, who counter that the extremes make good television but don't reflect the cuisine or how Southerners eat today.
"Over-the-top sells. This is what the Food Network wants. This is what Paula is serving up. I don't think she's maligning Southern food. I think she is misrepresenting Southern food," says Chapel Hill cookbook author Jean Anderson, who wrote the award-winning "A Love Affair with Southern Cooking."
"There are many Southern recipes, classic recipes, traditional recipes, that are nutritious, that are not overloaded with sugar, butter or eggs," Anderson says.
For example: Fish muddles with fish, tomatoes and onions. That classic dessert of ambrosia made with fresh oranges, fresh pineapple and freshly grated coconut. The Southern love affair with pickling all kinds of fruits and vegetables, a process that adds no fat. Vegetable dishes celebrated during our yearlong growing season: long-simmered greens, field peas over rice, juicy tomato sandwiches.
"Vegetables are so important in the South," says Charleston author Matt Lee, who with his brother, Ted, co-wrote "The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern."
"Edna Lewis was doing that back in the 1970s.You would think the more educated foodies would have absorbed that information. But the enduring image of fatty, lardy Southern down-home cooking has been the dominant image of the foods of the South."
Adds Ted: "It's so hard to sell a television show on delicious Southern vegetables. Lord, we have tried."
If all this attention to Southern food has any silver lining, Atlanta cookbook author Virginia Willis, author of "Basic to Brilliant, Y'all," hopes it is this: "It's been exciting that all these people have been talking about Southern food. It's an opportunity to educate."
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