Paula Deen, the woman who has put Southern culture on a pedestal, may be responsible for raising deeper questions about whether the marketing of Southern cuisine comes with a side of bigotry.
Many of the very dishes Southern foodways ambassador Paula Deen fetishizes – fried chicken, fried okra, biscuits – have slave roots, remnants of an African culinary culture co-opted by an entire region, and defined and marketed to the world as “Southern cooking.”
But if Southern cuisine is a racially integrated export, some of its purveyors still struggle with the region’s legacy, as revelations about Ms. Deen’s use of the word “nigger” showed this week. The now former Food Network star and Savannah, Ga., restaurateur said in a May deposition related to a harassment lawsuit involving her brother, Bubba Hiers, that “of course” she had used the word, but not in a “mean way.”
In part because Deen has been embraced by liberals like Oprah Winfrey and Kathy Griffin, and has been an avid Obama supporter, the N-word quotes shocked many of her fans and confirmed for many Northerners that behind that genteel facade and Sun Belt shine, the South hasn’t really changed.
As Chicago Now columnist John Chatz wrote, “To many of us, the South still stands for slavery and the Civil War. This may be wrong and it may be simple, but people like Paula Deen help keep these opinions alive.”
In the end, the woman who has done a ton to put Southern culture on a pedestal to be admired and chowed down on, may now be responsible for raising deeper questions about whether the marketing of Southern culture and cuisine comes with a side of bigotry.