Former New York Times food critic Frank Bruni began Thursday's confession by rapturously describing the best meal of his working life, a fatty beef blowout that started with martinis, moved on to white wine, then a bottle of red to accompany "a côte de boeuf that easily weighed more than two pounds." It had been "basted in butter and was sliced in a fashion that allowed the interlacing of broad, glassy ribbons of seared foie gras between the thick, glistening dominoes of beef.... I remember thinking, 'If I could get away with eating like this every night, I would.'"
He can't. Because a few months ago, Bruni writes, he was diagnosed with gout, an inflammatory disorder known as the "disease of kings" because rich, fatty foods and booze are its triggers. "You want a list of my favorite foods? Go to any Web site that instructs the gout sufferer about what to beware of. Almost all of them are there."
He all but blames himself for bringing the disease on himself by living a life replete with tipple and charcuterie and "strips of bacon as if they were so many shoestring fries." So why has the response to his announcement been one of reserved sympathy, in stark contrast to the schadenfreude that accompanied Paula Deen's announcement that she has diabetes?
Of course, Deen announced she was endorsing a pricey diabetes drug at the same time she came clean with a diagnosis she'd long known, which made her announcement seem financially motivated. Still, examining the difference in the way observers handled the two announcements is somehow telling about the culture's perceptions of large women. Grub Street New York called Bruni's article a "meaty confessional" in an uncharacteristically restrained post. ("Deen made a mountain of money peddling her butter-soaked food," Grub Street had previously noted about the Southern cook-show queen.)
Another difference is that Bruni wrote after reforming his diet, while Deen stubbornly insisted that she wouldn't change the recipes she cooks on TV. Americans love a story of triumph over the odds, particularly if the story involves a difficult sacrifice the reader doesn't have to make. "The diagnosis has forced Bruni to give up much of the red meat, shellfish, and alcohol he consumes, all foods that—according to him—made life worth living," Jonathan Kauffman writes in SF Weekly. "And for all the good that Paula Deen's diagnosis may someday do for her diabetic fans (once she starts writing healthier recipes), she was rightly pilloried for refusing to admit that her sugar-and-fat-intensive cooking was at least partially responsible."
Wait, what? That sounds suspiciously like an acknowledgment that Deen's sin was being shameless, not greedy. If she'd announced a Jenny Craig endorsement and admitted that she'd brought it all on herself, would that have made everyone feel better?
Bruni, however, has already delivered a public mea culpa about past weight transgressions. Deen is unapologetically large. If you think we're not a society that perceives that to be a sin, check out the Daily Mail story where Deen was caught eating in public: "She may have just announced she is suffering from Type 2 diabetes, but that clearly hasn't stopped Paula Deen enjoying her favourite calorie-laden foods," the paper sniped. She ate a cheeseburger while on vacation? How dare she!
Photo by Christopher Rochelle / CHOW.com