Paula Deen: Fans serve up heaping helpings of support

The Food Network has dropped Paula Deen from her roster for admitting to making racial comments. Is this the end for the Southern food star? Fans hash it out on social media networks.

By , Kendra Nordin

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    Celebrity chef Paula Deen in front of various Smithfield meat products. Smithfield Foods said it was dropping Deen as a spokeswoman days after the Food Network said it would not renew Deen's contract after she said she used racial slurs in the past.
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Having been fired from the Food Network, Paula Deen has officially entered the next chapter of her cooking career. Whether it will continue to sizzle or now be shelved in the back of the food-celebrity pantry remains to be seen.

But there's no question that Ms. Deen's fans are now serving heaping helpings of outrage.

"The majority of the people that we all love in the world of entertainment are racist and have other view points that we would cringe and rage over. I don't care if [Paula Deen] is or isn't racist. I just want to watch her make a pie. This is foodnetwork. Not lets play politically correct network," writes April Campbell on the Food Network's Facebook page under a photo of "30-minute pasta salad." More than 400 people showed support by "liking" Ms. Campbell's comment.

Recommended: Are you a real foodie? Take our quiz!

Just a few short years ago, Ms. Deen was the Grand Marshal of the 122nd Rose Bowl parade in Pasedena, Calif. Today the queen of Southern cooking and author of 14 cookbooks has been kicked out of the food court and into the center of swirling racial controversy.

In case you missed the news, The Christian Science Monitor (among others) reported earlier this week that the now former Food Network star and Savannah, Ga., restaurateur said in a May deposition related to a harassment lawsuit, that “of course” she had used the "n-word," but not in a “mean way.”

While the Food Network, and now Smithfield Foods, has dropped any and all affiliation with Deen, the passionate response to her confession and follow-up apology video continues to heat up social media sites.

This is the second time during the past year that Deen has been the center of controversy.

The first came with the public announcement in 2012 that she had been diagnosed with diabetes and was changing course in what and how much she ate, embracing low-cal recipes and advocating moderation in portion sizes. In a January 2013 issue of People magazine Deen was profiled along with her husband focusing on the family's collective weight loss and efforts to stay fit.

Deen's cuisine has never aimed much above low-brow. Her original restaurant in Savannah, Ga., was loved for its buffet of Southern fare: sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, fried chicken, greens, hoecakes, and deep-fried Twinkies.

But following her public announcement of her diagnosis, which she had kept private for several years, Deen also became a spokeswoman for Novo Nordisk's diabetes drug Victoza. Her affiliation drew criticism from those who viewed it as a profitmaking venture on a diet-related condition that she was helping to perpetuate through her calorie-laden recipes.

These earnest efforts toward reforming a diet, and the attempts to rectify the most recent PR disaster, have become a bulls-eye target in the blogosphere, drawing reactions from fans and Deen-haters alike.

A "We support Paula Deen" Facebook page already has nearly 307,000 "likes." 

One website in particular that has been hit with a wave of opinions following the racial controversy is The Food Channel – not to be confused with the Food Network. The Food Channel began in the 1980s as a newsletter and has expanded to a website with cooking videos. The similarity in names has managed to attract the torch burning, pitchfork waving crowd to The Food Channel's website. But surprisingly it is not Deen they are after, it's the Food Network itself for their quick decision to pull the plug on Deen's Food Network show.

The Food Channel became so quickly flooded with responses to the Deen debacle that they posted a response on their website titled, "For Those Who Love Paula Deen": 

"Attention all those who love Paula Deen. We’ve been getting your emails. Your phone calls. We’re pretty sure the good old fashioned mail will soon follow. We get that you are mad about her contract not being renewed. The problem is, you are calling and writing the wrong people.... We are not owned by Scripps. We are independently owned.... So, the best we can do is point you to the Scripps Television Network snail mail address....

"And, if Paula Deen is interested in helping to grow the real Food Channel into something that you all will watch, we are all ears. We want to take her apology seriously, and believe we can be part of helping her use this as a way to address such issues in the future, if she so desires. Tell her to contact us at editor@foodchannel.com. We’re getting her mail anyway."

The site also published a collection of recipes called "The Best of Paula Deen," and a sampling of the letters they have received, stating that comments were "running 100 to 1 in support of Ms. Deen." Here are a few excerpts:

"Cowards! I am in the food service industry and in my area, south GA, most folks love Paula Deen, because she cooks like most of us do. For you to not renew her contract shows how big cowards you are. The accusations against her are crap, and you know it. You have bowed to the altar of political correctness and for that, you should and will suffer."

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"Thank you for sacking Paula Deen. I have enjoyed her shows immensely through the years, but there is no excuse in this day and age for racism and for those who harbor racist views. Ms. Deen had an obligation to uphold the values and integrity of the Food Channel, who caters to people of all races, religions, and genders. She had other options than to fail on that score. Instead, she self-destructed. Please do not bow to any public pressure to rescind your justified actions in dropping Paula Deen. You did the right thing. Stick to it!"

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It could be said that Deen follows in a long line of public figures who have messed up, apologized, and soldiered on in some way. Witness: Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, and Martha Stewart, to name just a few. Chef Anthony Bourdain is notorious for his bad-boy behavior in the kitchen and cutting, opinionated remarks but he continues as a fan favorite. Whether Deen's sugar-sweet legacy in gravy-heavy food will be enough for her fans to continue to support her and her Southern food empire remains to be seen.

Earlier in June, Deen signed a Paula Deen Foods partnership with the New York-based Nanco Group. "The company, with its headquarters in Savannah, will focus on selling products at a variety of locations that consumers can then prepare at home," reported the Savannah Morning News.

On The Food Channel's Facebook page, fans and non-fans continue to weigh in, showing cross-cultural responses:

"As for Paula Deen, the use of that word is not acceptable. I am black and this lady made me have the Food Channel Network as a FAV channel on comcast + become an amateur cook. We [live] in a culture of forgiveness. Question to everyone; has she offered an apology? Tiger Woods ... apologized and now its done. If the golf guys can forgive that, we can definitely forgive Paula Deen," writes Ronny Obiri.

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"She admitted and owned her mistake. She is a growing evolving human being. As Maya Angelou would say, 'When you know better, you do better.' Paula is not her past. Let others learn from her as she has learned from herself. We are all guilty of harmful thoughts towards others at some point in our lives," writes Morgan Marie.

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"While I always find her amusing, I would never actually make the food she cooks, as it is so unhealthy. I think she is a human with flaws, who speaks without thinking, and is now in hot water. I like her son Bobby, who tries to make her recipes healthy. She needs to clean up her act, concentrate on her restaurant instead of her public persona, and see what happens," writes Karen Wheeler Brown.

In a world of vast food choices, it is ultimately the fan base that will dictate whether or not Deen will continue to have some kind of media presence and if she is able to prove she has indeed begun to fry up a new chapter of reformation.  

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