Paula Deen is facing the music, on the eve of her birthday nonetheless (tomorrow). She and her publicist must have had a phone-a-thon today as she made herself available to the media, inevitably to answer to accusations of hypocrisy, profiteering, and just being a downright bad role model for people with diabetes everywhere. I got a scant 15 minutes on the phone with her, and all I can say is, she sure sounded like a heartfelt Southern Bell (but then so did Tammy Faye Bakker, back in the day).

Actually, she did seem very sweet and genuine — and also rather naive.

Newsflash: we just learned that she's pledged a portion of her earnings from her Novo Nordisk endorsement deal to the American Diabetes Association. Fancy that.

Here's how my chat with her went:

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DM) Paula, you kept your diagnosis secret for 3 years, and then suddenly went public only when you had the lucrative opportunity to represent a drug company. This strikes people as extremely opportunistic, wouldn't you agree?

PD) Oh really, I didn't keep it secret. I chose not to share it. I needed time to digest it, share it with my family, see how I'd deal with it with my family. I knew that when the time would be right, God would show me the way.

Three years ago, I could have walked out of the doctor's office and said, 'Hey Y'all, I have type 2 diabetes!' But I would have been putting a big target on my back. I'd have had nothing to offer except a statement. Now I've learned things. Now I feel I have something to offer, working with Novo Nordisk and my sons.

You've stated that you don't plan to change your diet much, other than to reduce portion sizes. Will you really continue to eat and promote things like your glazed doughnut-egg-bacon-burger "breakfast" sandwich?

I did that one day — on a show where I spent 30 minutes in everybody's home. It was to have some fun and provide some entertainment. I have never made one of those burgers at home; it happened accidentally in my show.

I never said anyone should go eat this every day. I've always encouraged people to practice moderation, even if that's not what they heard.

I'm trying to reposition people like myself to help them enjoy the things they have always enjoyed — that they don't have to give up everything they love.

Now I walk on a treadmill every day. Do I want to? Probably not, but you have to do these things to take care of yourself.

You have a unique opportunity to help America reinvent its eating habits, yet you don't seem to be really embracing it.

That's what I'm doing! I can't say I'm not a Southern girl, to hell with you, grandmamma and granddaddy — to try to deny my heritage. I can't do anything about the past. But I'm facing it now. I immediately gave up sweet tea; I calculated I was consuming 1 ½ cups of sugar every day. So of course I have to make changes. When you reach a certain age, everybody has to.

I am proud to have lived to be 65 years old tomorrow (Jan. 19). My precious daddy was dead at 40, and my beautiful mamma at 44. I've made it this far. I've lived long enough, I'm here, I'm gonna take it. I have broad shoulders.

Are you saying that you're almost going back on your past work, reinventing your repertoire of recipes as lighter fare?

We're releasing a whole new set of recipes. It's a new twist to my heritage, with diabetes-friendly recipes that a person can eat more often.

I hope you can catch my son Bobby's show at 9pm (ET Wednesdays) on the Cooking Channel. It's called Not My Mama's Meals. He's doing his own recipes — stuff he grew up on, but removing as much of the fat and calories as possible. Bobby's way ahead of me in that area.

Are you taking the Novo Nordisk you're promoting, Victoza?

I've been on it about four months now, and I love it. It fits perfectly into my life.

{Editor's note: we only had 15 min., so I didn't get to ask why the enthusiasm over this injection pen}

Were you aware that the FDA issued a safety warning on that drug?

Oh gosh, it has? I may have been told, but everything — all my meds — come with different warnings these days.

Not just a label warning about side effects, but a warning about possible risks of thyroid cancer and pancreatitis...

They may have mentioned that... but everything comes with medical warnings these days. You have to ask yourself: will the good outweigh the risk?

I have medical friends outside of this pharma company, and one of my dear friends is a doctor. I'm close to her and I trust her. She says this particular medication is the one that she puts all her patients on. That gave me a great deal of comfort. At some point, you have to trust somebody.

What's been your reaction to all the outcry over your announcement?

It's not fun to stand in front of somebody when you don't look like you were at 18 years old, and take off all your clothes in front of people. It's hard. It hurts. I don't physically look like the girl I used to be — it's very hard for someone to expose themselves and then you're set up for people to say hurtful things about you.

It hurts when you know in your heart you don't want it to be that way... {Paula actually choked up at this point.}

God's given me another gift and I'm going to do my best to shine in a new light.

* * *

Sincere testimony from a hometown girl, or simply grandstanding? You be the judge.

Either way, we appreciate the timely opportunity for the interview.

Happy Birthday, Paula Deen.

** UPDATE: Jan. 24, 2012 **

Paula Deen's longtime publicist has quit, stating that she "strongly disagrees" with Deen's choice to represent Novo Nordisk.

 

** UPDATE No. 2, Jan. 27, 2012 **

Paula Deen's two sons were reportedly "furious" about her choice to represent  a $500-a-month diabetes drug that she switched to only after being offered the spokeswoman deal.

  
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