Celebrity chef Paula Deen has been a fixture on the Food Network since 2002. She’s been teaching aspiring comfort-food cooks how to prepare their own decadent creations, which use butter, sugar and bacon as primary ingredients. On Jan. 17, 2012, she announced that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Deen has claimed that the foods that she features on her shows and in her cookbooks are not meant to be eaten every day. "I've always said, 'Practice moderation, y'all.' I'll probably say that a little louder now," Deen said after disclosing her diagnosis. However, a high-fat diet is a major risk factor for the disease, so the food she was famous for was the most likely culprit for her condition. Furthermore, it turned out that the diagnosis was 3 years old, and she had kept on hawking her deep-fried cheesecakes anyway.
She also announced that she had become the spokeswoman for the anti-diabetes drug Victoza, putting her in the unique position of promoting both a probable cause of, and treatment for, Type 2 diabetes. She’s hardly the only celebrity chef to make an unusual endorsement deal.
The English chef Jamie Oliver has made a personal crusade out of visiting schools in the U.K. and the U.S. to discourage use of processed foods in children’s lunches. He has been critical of shopping at a supermarket, comparing it to a “factory” and saying that for his restaurant, he buys food exclusively “from specialist growers, organic suppliers and farmers."
This viewpoint is perhaps at odds with his decision to appear in advertisements for the Sainsbury’s chain of U.K. supermarkets. In exchange for his endorsement, Oliver has been the recipient of over $1.5 million a year for 11 years.
Back in the U.S., Rick Bayless has made a name for himself by specializing in Mexican cuisine. His series “Mexico: One Plate at a Time” is in its seventh season on PBS. He has been a strong advocate of the “Slow Food” movement, which promotes the use of natural ingredients and traditional food preparation, as opposed to mass-produced products and fast food.
People who were aware of Bayless’ views may have been confused when he began hawking a Burger King product in 2003. He defended his decision, saying that the 350-calorie Chicken Baguette sandwich that he was promoting was “a step in the right direction” for a fast-food company. He further explained that all the money he earned in the commercial spots would go to small farms that supplied food to restaurants in his native Chicago area.
Both Oliver and Bayless may have chosen eye-raising products to endorse, given their publicly stated views. However, in the end, their reputations didn’t suffer, and they continue to be held in the same regard as they were before making these endorsements. It’s too early to say what effect Deen’s endorsement of Victoza will have on her career, if any. However, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has been voicing his opinion about the matter, and so far, some people seem to agree with him.
"When your signature dish is hamburger in between a doughnut, and you've been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you've got Type 2 Diabetes," he said, "it's in bad taste if nothing else."