Are Paula Deen’s days as bestselling cookbook author over?
A highly publicized racism scandal has already cost Deen a lucrative contract with the Food Network and may also cost the Southern cooking icon her deal with shopping network QVC. Whether fans can stomach the latest news and continue to purchase Deen’s 14 cookbooks remains to be seen.
The celebrity chef became embroiled in scandal last week after she admitted in a deposition that she had used racial epithets and tolerated racial jokes and pornography in the workplace, according to news reports. The deposition was part of a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee.
According to news reports of the deposition, which found its way online over the weekend, Deen admitted to using the N-word; making jokes about black people, Jews, and "rednecks"; and considering planning a plantation-themed party complete with black men “playing” slaves.
Deen has posted several online videos apologizing for her comments and mistakes, including one in which she tells fans, “I beg for your forgiveness.”
The question is, will Deen’s damning comments sour her cookbook sales?
The queen of cooking has long held a monopoly on the Southern cookbook market, with 14 bestselling cookbooks like “Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible,” “Paula Deen’s The Deen Family Cookbook,” and “The Lady and Sons: Savannah Country Cookbook.”
(She also oversees an empire of TV shows, restaurants, cookware, a magazine, and endorsement deals.)
Some publicity experts say the damage has been done and Deen will never enjoy the same popularity, onscreen or on the shelves.
“Her brand is now tainted beyond recourse,” Mark Pasetsky, CEO of public relations and marketing content firm Mark Allen & Co., told USA Today.
Added Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com, “Paula Deen will survive but she will never be whole again. She will never make as much money, she will never have the respect that she once had, there are people that will never be in business with her again.”
Still, recent articles are rife with reports of Deen fans lining up outside her restaurants, swelling online forums in support of the celebrity cook, and devotees vowing to boycott Food Network, which dropped her shows.
Seemingly overnight, a “We support Paula Deen” Facebook page bubbled to the surface, with almost 300,000 likes and calls to support the Southern cook’s products, businesses, and books.
“Let’s support Paula by bumping up the pre-order numbers for her October release,” reads one post urging fans to buy Deen’s forthcoming book, “Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up.”
How are those cookbook sales faring?
“Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible” has been on Amazon’s top 100 list for the last 184 days, though it has dropped to number 78.
She’s still got a monopoly on the “Regional/International” cookbooks category on Amazon, with at least three popular books on that bestselling list, not including her son Bobby Deen’s book, “ From Mama’s Table to Mine: Everybody’s Favorite Comfort Foods at 350 Calories or Less.”
Perhaps most notable are recent comments on Deen’s Amazon page, where those pledging support for the doyenne of Southern cooking outnumber her critics.
“I wanted to do more than just speak out in support of Mrs. Deen. I wanted to offer some monetary support. So I elected to buy a Paula Deen cookbook... Good luck Mrs. Deen,” wrote commenter WakkyWabbit.
“I don't normally buy items for a policical [sic] statement but this time I have. Paula has freedom of speech and I have the power of the buck... Time for American to grow up beyond the age of ten years old, get over the polical [sic] correctness crap and get on with life,” another comment, by Sher, read.
And then there was this, from commenter truesouth: “The great thing about this book is that Paula provided me with a professional black man to hold it open while I cooked. I didn't even have to pay him! Talk about Southern hospitality! The recipes taste like a cool drink of water from a fountain that says 'for whites only.'. The book literally drips with butter and oppression, but in that charming 'I'm not a racist' Southern way. My favorite is her recipe for burnt cross buns.”
Whether Deen’s books will survive cracks about “burnt cross buns” remains to be seen.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.