Paula Deen’s Fall from Grace

Paula Deen's The Lady and Sons Restaurant, Savannah, Georgia -
Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons Restaurant, Savannah, Georgia –









By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The last several weeks of Paul Deen’s very public celebrity demise has been painful to watch.  Once the doyenne of Southern Cooking, she is now perceived in some quarters as a racist pariah. What appears endemic in our culture is an insatiable thirst for news of celebrity chefs’ private lives, thinking they are infinitely more glamorous than our own little drab existences.  While I cannot say for certain, this obsession may have begun with the 1961 publication of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her PBS television show.  The frenzy has escalated over the years with the Food Network’s hawking of countless chefs and bizarre food challenge programs.  It is enough to turn one off of anything beyond a comforting dish of homemade chicken soup [neither Giada’s, nor Nigella’s versions, thank you very much].

One thing I do know has been lacking in the muck racking of Paula Deen the past weeks:  Forgiveness.  She has asked, begged, pleaded, and groveled for it, yet Faceless Corporate America appears unwilling to forgive her when the Reverend Jesse Jackson has.  Her latest book, which was scheduled for release by Ballantine Books in October 2013, was abruptly pulled, in spite of its already having sold out in advance on Amazon.

If we step back and look at Paula Deen, we have to admit that she neither killed nor maimed anyone; she neither embezzled nor swindled money from employees or investors, nor did she use politically incorrect language in media venues.  The other fact is that Southern sensibilities have been much ignored of late in Faceless Corporate America’s decisions regarding Paula Deen.   Take a look at the fictional television character of Don Draper and his world.  Ethnic groups are maligned on that show and women are relegated primarily to the roles of cloying or clawing sexual kittens.  I have yet to hear anyone rail against the derogatory jokes about Jews on “Mad Men”.  A large number of viewers rhapsodized for years about the greatness of television’s “The Sopranos”; however, this is one Italian American that took a dim view of yet another program devoted to Italian American thugs.

Paula Deen has admitted the error of what she said.  Who are we not to forgive her when we ourselves are guilty of different versions of the same regarding ethnic biases we harbor, if we are truly honest with ourselves? We many not verbally articulate these prejudices, yet Faceless Corporate America seems to think its ca-ca doesn’t smell.  Well, guess what?  It reeks.

Ciao for now.

Encounter: Italians and Native Americans



Nervi, Genoa, Italy.
Nervi, Genoa, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Cristoforo Colombo is revered among many Italian-Americans.  Under the auspicious of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, Columbus stumbled upon the New World.  While the great waves of Italians immigrating to America did not occur for another four hundred plus years, Italians take pride in claiming Christopher Columbus from Genoa, Italy as one of our own.


My father was one of the founding members of the Santa Maria Di Loretto Society in our hometown.  In the mid-1990’s he was finally able to rally the club to fund a sculpture of Christopher Columbus to donate to our town.  The Mayor, the Knights of Columbus from our Catholic church, The Di Loretto Society families, and an Italian priest friend of my father’s were all on hand for the dedication ceremony.   Suddenly, several vans screeched to a halt near our gathering.  Native Americans spilled out from the vehicles, waving signs and railing against Columbus.  Several police cars pulled up, which did little to quell the demonstrators.  Our Italians were bewildered:  Columbus had paved the way for them to leave poverty in southern Italy to realize their dreams in America.


Chiesa di Santa Maria de Loretto
Chiesa di Santa Maria de Loretto (Photo credit: Clotylde)


My father sprang into action, approaching the police and the demonstrators.


“Good after-a-noon.  I’m a Frank-a; we just-a come to-a give-a the City a statue.  We no wanna make-a trouble,” he said.


Undaunted, the Native Americans shouted about the decimation of their tribes and the usurping of their lands.


“I come-a here in-a 19-a-33.  I no gotta nothin’ to-a do with-a that.  It no was-a right to-a take-a you-a land, but –a we,” he said, gesticulating toward all of us on the other side of the sculpture, “come-a here in-a peace. We no do-a nothin’ to-a you.”


The leader of the demonstration motioned for his comrades to cease shouting and waving the signs.


“I can-a offer-a you some-a cake and-a some-a coffee.  Please-a join-a us.  It –a be an honor.”


Maybe because my father had served in both the Italian Army, and in the U.S. Army, perhaps because he knew what it was like to have something snatched away, maybe because he was once a stranger in a strange land who still spoke with a thick accent, who flashed a smile and greeted all warmly that made the Native Americans shake his hand and thank him for his kindness, for his empathy.  The Native Americans piled back into their vans and drove away waving.


Maybe if Christopher Columbus and those who followed had extended a kind hand, Native Americans might have experienced a better outcome.  Imagine.


Ciao for now.