Book Review: Paula Deen’s My First Cookbook

Weekend Cooking meme graphicBook: Paula Deen’s My First Cookbook by Paula Deen
Genre: Cookbook
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 2008
Pages: 176

Source: Library

Summary: This is an attractive cookbook with bright colors, a funny funky font that is mostly still readable, and pretty illustrations. Most recipes are two page spreads. The left page is filled with pictures of the tools and ingredients needed. An adult cook would find both the pictures and the tools distracting from the identification of ingredients, but a child would likely get a kick out of that presentation. The right page has the recipe instructions and often an illustration of children or a family enjoying the results.

cover of My First Cookbook by Paula DeenThoughts: Okay, I admit it, I got this from the library just to have an excuse to write about the Paula Deen kerfuffle. Just in case you missed it, the woman responsible for bringing America fried butter balls and the bacon egg burger between donuts instead of buns (yes, home cooking that might be even worse for you than eating out) admitted to being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago and is now hawking a diabetes drug.

I was surprised to discover that I could get a children’s book by Paula Deen from the library. Yay! I don’t even have to read a full adult cookbook to manufacture my excuse to write about this issue. And, then, OMG, Paula Deen is writing books that influence the eating habits of our children?!

As it turns out, Paula Deen’s My First Cookbook wasn’t as horrible as it could be. The breakfast chapter, for example, has nothing that I would want to see a child eating every day. On the other hand, it also has nothing that would be particularly objectionable for a Saturday or Sunday. I’m guessing that most busy families don’t have children cooking breakfast on weekdays anyway. That was true throughout the book — very few recipes for daily consumption and very few that would be difficult to fit into a day or week of reasonably healthful eating.

The biggest problem is the missed opportunity. She includes two pages of safety instructions, plus another on that topic for adult helpers. There’s a page about setting the table and another about good manners. But not a word about the role food choices play in making healthy bodies.

My hero on food issues, Marion Nestle, had a bit to say: Weighing in on Paula Deen. I was surprised to see the American Diabetes Association putting an emphasis on genetics and drugs rather than diet, but Marion Nestle knows the reason why.

My favorite take on the topic came from Erika Nicole Kendall of A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss.  She wrote Paula Deen, Her Alleged Diabetes, And Why I Can’t Stand Her earlier in the week when the announcement was still a rumor. She’s mostly addressing Deen’s infamous comment that not every one can afford a $58 prime rib, in response to Anthony Bourdain’s criticism. Here’s a teaser bit, but go read it:

It was a pathetic attempt to use classism and manufactured elitism as an excuse for why she pushes the food she does.

cover of Pretend Soup by Mollie KatzenI want cooking to save Americans from our own excesses. Paula Deen often does the opposite, using cooking to continue the high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt expectations that we get from fast food and restaurants. Cooking, especially with children, is such a wonderful opportunity to experiment with more complicated flavors and more nutritious ingredients. Sure, there will be failures, but there will also be successes and the next recipe might be the one that gets the picky kid to eat her broccoli.

Appeal: Unless you have a kid who is a Paula Deen fan, I would skip this cookbook and start my search for a children’s cookbook with 12 Great Cookbooks for Kids at grandparents.com. Personally, I think Mollie Katzen’s Pretend Soup looks like a winner.

Foodies Reading Challenge graphicChallenges: This is my 2nd book of 2012 for the Foodie’s Reading Challenge.

Stop by Beth Fish Reads today for more Weekend Cooking posts.

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About Joy Weese Moll

a librarian writing about books
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14 Responses to Book Review: Paula Deen’s My First Cookbook

  1. Satia says:

    Thank you for sharing the link to Food Politics. My husband has type 2 diabetes and is insulin dependent. He definitely falls into the “genetic factors” side of things because, when he was finally diagnosed, he weighed less than 110 lbs and is 6′ tall. Even now, he has not regained all of the weight he lost and is very slender. Needless to say, Paula Deen has been a discussion in our home and I know he will want to read this article. I’m very curious about the writer’s suggesting that the ADA is funded by drug companies. I was disappointed that there wasn’t a link to this and am now off to research this. If you or someone else knows where I can find more information about this, I’d appreciate it.

  2. Very interesting post and I love how you went off to the library to do your own research. That’s cool.

    My Weekend Cooking post is my Foodie Reading Challenge sign up post. I am very excited and off to add it to the challenge page now. Thanks again for hosting my fave challenge.

    Rose City Reader

  3. Belle Wong says:

    Great review. I’d never heard of fried butter balls – just the thought of it made my arteries twinge. I wonder if Jamie Oliver will come out with a cookbook for kids in the near future. He really should. He came to Toronto recently and Ward and I were fortunate enough to get tickets to hear him speak. He is very impassioned about good, healthy food for children, and he’s a very funny, down-to-earth speaker, as well. I’d love to see a book by him for kids!

  4. Margot says:

    I’m not sure I like the idea of making Paula Deen the poster girl for what’s wrong with the food politics in our country. I’ve read some of her cookbooks, tried a few of her recipes, and watch her Food Network show occasionally. I guess I missed the Fried Butter Balls and those other evil dishes. Most of her food is very tasty looking and rather healthy looking. What I like about her is that she encourages people to cook their own food and have fun doing it rather than eat fast food. Most of us know to skip the excess butter, cream and sugar. We all make our own choices as to what goes in our mouths. It’s not Paula’s fault.

    • Joy Weese Moll says:

      Good points, Margot! We don’t have cable so I’ve seen very little of Paula Deen. I mostly know her from what makes the news, so the most outrageous acts, not the normal everyday things.

  5. Chinoiseries says:

    Well written, Joy. I also liked the article by Marion Nestle, I had not heard of her before. I find it incredible that Paula Deen actually accuses her critics to be elitist. That argument is so easily refuted! My grocery bills are quite low, and my fridge and pantry is always stocked with a variety of wholewheat grains and fresh vegetables & fruit. But yeah, preaching to the choir here ;-)
    I am just glad that she is not getting the support of her fellow celebrity cooks.
    Nothing wrong with making tasty, butter & sugar laden goods once in a while, but definitely not on a daily basis.

  6. Doret says:

    Thanks for all the Paula Deen links. Why would someone actually make and eat fried butter rolls or use dounts has hamburger buns. I was surprised Deen never endorsed a brand of butter. Though I wonder if its because the companies were taking in the whole picture and it wasn’t worth the risk.

  7. Paula Deen intrigues me. I don’t have cable, so I haven’t actually watched any of her shows but it does seem off for someone who promotes generally unhealthly meals to be advertising those kinds of drugs. On the other hand, she encourages people to cook and I’m sure as a once in a while thing her food is fine… either way, I won’t be buying any of her cook books. I love that you went out of your way to find this and talk about it though! :)

  8. Thanks for sharing this review and the links! I think what bugs me most about the Paula Dean thing is that she found out she had diabetes and then spent a couple of years not telling anyone about it, continuing to promote her show and recipes without acknowledging the role her food probably had in her diagnosis. It’s too bad this book didn’t have a healthy eating page in it.

  9. People are buying it otherwise she wouldn’t be on TV with the cooking shows and all that. But she’ll fade away soon. You don’t hear of all Emeril all the time any more. Food Network likes to overexpose their stars. And I am sure she makes a lot more money hawking drugs than she would selling healthy recipes. I’m with you, I prefer Mollie Katzen for kids and for anyone. She had a cooking show, too.

  10. Fay says:

    Another good cookbook for older kids: Eat Fresh Food, Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs by Rozanne Gold. Excellent.

  11. Pingback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? | Joy's Book Blog

  12. Ruby says:

    Librarian, I am jealous. Fried butter balls? Lord. I love Marion Nestle, thanks for the link, Ruby

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