An Open Letter to Paula Deen

Great food for thought by culinary historian Michael Twitty.


An Open Letter to Paula Deen:


Photo Courtesy of: Johnathan M. Lewis

Dear Paula Deen,

So it’s been a tough week for you… believe me you I know something about tough weeks being a beginning food writer and lowly culinary historian.  Of course honey, I’d kill for one of your worst days as I could rest myself on the lanai, the veranda, the portico (okay that was really tongue in cheek), the porch..whatever…as long as its breezy and mosquito-free.  First Food Network now Smithfield.  (Well not so mad about Smithfield—not the most ethical place to shill for, eh, Paula?)

I am currently engaged in a project I began in 2011 called The Cooking Gene Project—my goal to examine family and food history as the descendant of Africans, Europeans and Native Americans—enslaved people and enslavers—from Africa to America and from Slavery to Freedom.  You and I are both human, we…

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11 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Paula Deen

  1. Great post! It gets a bit wordy, but he makes his point well – I’m not a big Paula Deen fan, but I, too, feel bad for her being lambasted by people who’ve obviously never sinned or erred in their lives. One great irony to observe is that places like Wal-Mart and Smithfield have dropped her despite their own questionable ethics!


    1. I wasn’t a big fan before the debacle, and suffice to say, I don’t feel sorry for her now. IMHO, the greater “crime” is not her use of the N word, but her alleged actions (or lack thereof), as described in the lawsuit:

      Could she really be so wrapped up in selling her brand to the American public that she’s not aware of the race issues plaguing our country today?


      1. Oh, believe me, she should be completely aware of our country’s race issues, and shouldn’t feign ignorance of anything. Racism is still strong in many parts of the country, especially the south, and if she or her brother are at fault, so be it. What annoys me is how many people are jumping on the “Crush Paula” bandwagon when I suspect they probably never even had an opinion of her beforehand. So many folks these days love to watch successful people fail…whether it’s through their own fault or not.


  2. Jama, I have to admit that I don’t watch anyone on the Food Network, so am wading in with ignorance here. The words that come after reading this and an NPR article about Paula Deen are only why does everyone seem surprised. I guess it’s the importance of reality tv to some, especially when someone, like Deen, doesn’t live up to the person imagined. And interesting it is as I see others reacting to this person, or really, her show. Thanks for sharing!


    1. I was not a fan of her show and have seen her a few times as a guest on other shows. You have a good point — should we be surprised? I didn’t characterize her show as “reality TV” necessarily. I knew it as a cooking show, and yes, she had the Southern grandma persona down pat. True, we never really know how such popular public figures are off camera.

      Huge irony — if she is indeed “racist” — as someone who has made a name for herself promoting Southern cooking, where does she think Southern cooking came from in the first place? I think this is what this Open Letter addresses so well — the ongoing blatant disregard and disrespect for the culinary contributions of enslaved African Americans.

      Of course the lawsuit is really about sexual discrimination in the workplace, mainly practiced by her brother at his restaurant.


  3. I was on vacation so I missed the firestorm about PD, and the extent of my knowledge about her comes from hearing her on “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” (where she was funny and charming), so I am kind of ? about the whole thing. Thanks for the article!


  4. Thanks for sharing the letter/link. “No sound bite can begin to peel back the layers of this issue” – how true is that?! Like Tabatha, I was travelling and a few days late to all of this, and have been trying to make sense of it as a thoughtful (I hope) woman whose roots and mailing address are in the South, and not someone who’s seen more than a clip here and there of Paula Deen. Much to appreciate in Mr. Twitty’s letter.


    1. It’s indeed a very complicated issue with many layers, and sometimes difficult for the average person just trying to make sense of it all to discern what is actually true and what has been hyped by the media.


  5. My point of view is not popular, i’m sure, but I think the media is turning this into a witch hunt. I did not use her recipes as they were too heavy for my taste so it is not like I am a big fan. But for goodness sake , it isn’t like she murdered someone.


    1. Quite ironically, her own apology videos and TV interviews seem to be hurting her more than media commentary. The media does love a good circus though; they’ve made a real murderer, Jodi Arias, into a kind of celebrity.


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