Chef Paula Deen in the hot pot of political controversy over deal

Sunday, June 3, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:16 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You can’t get much syrupier or chirpier than Paula Deen. She’s the ebullient celebrity queen of Southern cooking, with a buttery drawl, a down-home manner and her own popular TV show on Food Network.

These days, however, the temperature in Paula’s kitchen has become red-hot, for she has cooked up a big ol’ mess of political controversy for herself. Last September, she signed a lucrative endorsement deal to be a spokeswoman for America’s biggest pork producer, Smithfield Foods Inc. “When I was looking for a company to partner with,” she recently gushed, “I wanted to make sure it was someone who shares my family values and traditions.”

That’s a mighty sweet sentiment. But, unfortunately, Smithfield is not at all sweet. It is notorious as a massive factory farm polluter of its neighbors’ air and water, as a monopolist that squeezes out small family farmers and as an anti-union abuser of working families. Family values? Try these: In recent years, Smithfield has been cited by federal regulators, courts and other independent monitors for spying, coercing, beating, assaulting, illegally arresting, intimidating, harassing, illegally firing and racially insulting its employees.

That’s why workers from Smithfield’s huge pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., are trying to get Deen to meet with them — hoping that if she learns the truth about her financial partner, she’ll side with real family values over corporate dollars. Backed by a coalition of churches, unions, community organizations and others, these low-income employees are politely but firmly asking that this high-profile chef not lend her celebrity to Smithfield’s corporate villainy.

To find out how you can help, go to the Smithfield Justice Campaign at

Jim Hightower writes for

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