Before I drove cross country in 2010, I had never heard of Southern cooking diva Paula Deen, but I credit her for the harmony of our readers’ dinner in Atlanta that spring. You see, when we gathered in that august town, I was concerned; one of our critics (with whom I have corresponded at least since 2006) would be joining us — along with two of our most outspoken conservative readers, one who, two years after the 2008 election, still sported a McCain-Palin sticker (with the Arizona Senator’s name removed) on his truck.
I had feared I might have to play peacemaker. Well, I didn’t have to. I don’t know how Paula Deen came up, but as soon as she did, all my Atlanta readers found something to talk about — how they delighted in this diva, enjoying her books, TV show and recipes. They discussed which ones they had tried and home and celebrated her appreciation for butter. Paula Deen, in short, bridged the political divide.
Aware of this woman’s capacity to foster harmony, my ears naturally perked up when my correspondent James Richardson alerted me this weekend to an article he wrote, taking to task “Northern” food critics who would bring this Southern diva down:
“Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later,” [New York-based foodie Anthony] Bourdain said Tuesday. He has also previously called Deen the “worst, most dangerous person to America” for her country cooking indulgence. Even 2011 James Beard winner Jose Andres said that Dean should “endorse a vegetable or fruit” instead of a diabetes drug.
But the Bronx cheer for apparent chef-turned-rebel terrorist Deen, a prototypical Southern mother with a lifetime’s recipes of irredeemably deep-fried dishes, is less a reflection of the culinary elitism that runs through Bourdain’s vice-ridden travelogues than the regionalist snobbery that fuels its appeal.
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From food to faith, the mythic Dixie–soulful and abundant, passionate and insubmissive–has always clashed with the rigidly cosmopolitan north, which keeps an ever watchful eye on we, her unlearned, drawling wards. [Read more…]