On New Year's Day I just watched Paula Deen ride down Colorado Boulevard. Waving like a mad woman, beaming with every tooth in her mouth, brimming with excitement - and why shouldn't she be? Serving as the Grand Marshall for the Rose Parade, Paula is also a darling of the Food Network. A star amongst food stars, she sells millions of Paula-inspired merchandise to adoring fans. Even if you don't like her, you still know about her charismatic presence in the food world. She cooks feel-good American food, and lives the American dream.
That dream comes with a signature stick of butter, crushed potato chips or large dollop of mayonnaise.
Her announcement came a few months ago, and the Tournament of Roses was hit harder than a lineman at a Rose Bowl Game. Some in the food world questioned her taste level, and others were left wondering why Paula gets the same billing as past Marshals like soccer great Pelé, Tom Brokaw and Shirley Temple-Black?
You could say I have a few things to say on the subject. Considering that I'm a healthy food writer, native-Pasadenan and former Rose Princess. (My Grand Marshal was the delightful and celebrated Gregory Peck.)
The Pasadenan in me believes wholeheartedly that the Tournament of Roses made a spectacular choice.
Over the last month, I've been watching Paula take on her busy duties as Grand Marshal. This coveted appointment is so much more than Paula waving at millions, and tossing the coin just before the Rose Bowl game begins. Making countless appearances, back-to-back interviews, and being ambassador for one of the oldest institutions in Southern California is not easy. Her natural charm and Southern ease puts everyone at ease and makes you want to listen. This is exactly what a Grand Marshal should do.
The healthy food writer in me believes that the Food Network has a unique opportunity to influence how Americans eat.
Unfortunately, Paula holds the crown of chefs that features few healthy recipes. It's as if the Food Network has an overall disconnect from the current obesity problem. I realize that each chef puts their best food forward, making your eyes bulge the second they drizzle sauce over a delectable dish. And while our overall waistlines go up, the Neely's throw another piece of meat into the fryer. As childhood obesity reaches epidemic levels, the Barefoot Contessa adds an extra cup of heavy cream into a sauce. And as Rachel Ray cooks another meal sans fresh vegetables, Americans experience more chronic illness, some of which is brought on by poor diet.
Paula, I adore you. Your grace and flirtatious manner bring a smile to anyone who watches your show. But some of us are committed to eating healthier. I would love to try some of your unique eats minus the heavy Southern hand that adds loads of calories, fat, salt and sugar.
Food Network, I am an addict. I watch you (and your sister channel the Cooking Channel) on a level that borders obsession. Here is an opportunity for you too. You can transform the way Americans eat by asking your chefs to feature more fresh vegetables, baked options, adding flavor by using fresh ingredients and herbs, while using less refined ingredients. Your viewers are hungry for this.
The result? We'll follow your lead and feel better from eating whole foods. We'll keep tuning in as Americans become less prone to chronic disease from a better way of eating. And you'll have loyal viewers whose waistlines shrink. I request that your wonderful chefs start moving forward to create something new in 2011: fresh ideas along with fresh ingredients.
Mona is the author of the upcoming book, "Cook This...Get Laid: A Man's Guide To Using Food For Seduction."