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With book canceled, will Paula Deen have the last laugh?

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

Paula Deen might be in tears now, but I’d bet all the salted butter in the world that she’ll have the last laugh. (UPDATE: And I might just have to eat that butter after all. See added details below.)

I was in the middle of a social media sabbatical in Florida last week when news broke that she had used racial slurs and jokes in the past and had wanted to dress up servers at a wedding as slaves.

I relied on old-school outlets — aka, the local newspaper in Ormond Beach — to find out that the popular TV host had been dropped by the Food Network, and when the stories kept appearing in the paper day after day, I realized that the Internet was probably blowing up with commentary on this scandal and helping extend its life.

Now, a week later, we’re still talking about it. The New York Times’ Julia Moskin and blogger and culinary historian Michael Twitty have written what are likely the most thoughtful responses on race and Deen’s role as a spokeswoman for all things Southern, one in the Times’ food section and the other on Twitty’s blog, Afroculinaria. (Now that I’ve plugged back in, I’m glad to see Twitty’s open letter getting shared so many times in social circles. I met him a few years ago at a conference and have been reading his mostly under-the-radar posts on the intersection of food, culture and race, and this Deen blog post has thrust him into the mainstream media spotlight. He’s a smart writer who isn’t afraid to address delicate issues of race head-on.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PL02LMD8Gw

Yesterday, Deen finally made it onto the Today show, giving a tearful interview with Matt Lauer that some have claimed wasn’t exactly apologetic.

To be honest, I’m surprised at how quickly the Food Network and her other partners, including Smithfield and Target, have dropped one of their biggest moneymakers, especially after they all stayed by her side during the controversy early last year over her shilling $500-per-month diabetes drugs while simultaneously pushing the very foods that exacerbated her disease.

This is certainly not the end of Deen’s career. Pre-sales of her next book, not due out until October, have surged as fans find ways to show their support and at least one food writer who isn’t necessarily a fan of Deen’s has spoken out to say that we’ve crossed the line in calling for her head.

People who have the unenviable job of managing public crises like this told the Washington Post this week that Deen’s next step should be going away for a while and letting the controversy, especially the online chatter, settle. That will be hard to do with “Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up” coming out in just a few months, and it was canceling Deen’s upcoming book. With that news, I might just have to eat all that salted butter I bet at the top of this post. Or maybe another publisher will step in and throw Deen a much-needed lifeline.

It’s looking worse by the day for this 66-year-old star, but if Martha Stewart can serve jail time and still come out as one of the world’s biggest food celebrities, there’s no way this controversy will silence Paula Deen for good.