Under Fire For N-Word, Smithfield Foods Says Sayonara to Paula Deen

Josh Long, Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider

June 26, 2013

4 Min Read
Under Fire For N-Word, Smithfield Foods Says Sayonara to Paula Deen

SAVANNA, Ga.Celebrity chef Paula Deen is quickly losing allies after a deposition surfaced in which she admitted to using the N-word. Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, on Monday terminated its relationship with the embattled celebrity just days after the Food Network revealed it would not renew her contract when it expires at the end of the month. QVC, another Deen business partner, is said to be weighing its options.

In a deposition taken last month, Deen acknowledged using the N-word.

"Okay. In what context?" a lawyer asked her.

"Well, it was probably when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head," Deen responded, explaining later that she probably used the word in telling her husband about the assault.  

Deen is among the world's wealthiest chefs. According to a 2012 article in Forbes Magazine, she had banked $17 million over the past year. Since the deposition was leaked to the media, Deen's fortunes have deteriorated, as illustrated by the Smithfield Foods and Food Network announcements.

Appearing Wednesday on the "TODAY Show", Deen told Matt Lauer: "I believe that every creature on this earth, every one of God's creatures was created equal no matter who you choose to go to bed at night with, no matter what church you go to pray, I believe that everyone should be treated equal and that's the way I was raised and that's the way I live my life."

Lauer asked Deen if her business partners have treated her fairly and whether she would have fired herself.

"Would I have fired me, knowing me? No. I'm very lucky ... I'm so fortunate that so many of my partners that know who I am have decided to stand by me. QVC has not dropped me."

"They say they are weighing their options," Lauer interjected.

But two other companies on Wednesday were reported to have broken ties with Deen: Walmart and Caesers Entertainment Corporation.

Deen, a 66-year-old Southerner from Savanna, Ga., denied being a racist. Lauer asked Deen how she could have used the N-word, which he said is "the most offensive word you can use to describe an African-American", and not be a racist.

"The day I used that word. It was a world ago. It was 30 years ago. I had had a gun put to my head," she responded.

Deen denied to Lauer that she used the word on other occasions. However, her statement contradicts her deposition in which she said she probably used the term since the bank incident, "but it's been a very long time."

Later in the deposition, Deen explained: "But that's just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the 60s in the south. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior." 

In a YouTube video published Friday, the day she was supposed to originally sit for her interview with Lauer, Deen offered an apology and claimed the media was distorting who she is.

"I want people to understand that my family and I are not the kind of people that the press is wanting to say we are. I've spent the best of 24 years to help myself and others. Your color of your skin, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter to me," she said. " But ... it's what in your heart and my family and I try to live by that."

"And I offer my since apology to those that I have hurt and I hope you would forgive me because this comes from the deepest part of my heart," Deen added. "And I will continue to work and continue to do good things for good people."

Deen was deposed on May 17 as part of a civil lawsuit filed against Deen and her brother, Earl W. "Bubba" Hiers, by a former employee who managed Uncle Bubble's Seafood and Oyster House, Inc.. The siblings own the business.  

The plaintiff Lisa Jackson claims Hiers sexually harassed her and other female employeesviewing pornography in the open, disparaging employees concerning their weight and making other inappropriate sexual remarks. Hiers has denied the allegations of abuse, discrimination and sexual harassment.

In her deposition, Deen was asked if her brother has ever told racial jokes. She responded: "I'm sure those kind of jokes have been told. Every man I've ever come in contact with has one."


About the Author(s)

Josh Long

Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider, Informa Markets Health and Nutrition

Josh Long directs the online news, feature and op-ed coverage at Natural Products Insider, which targets the health and wellness industry. He has been reporting on developments in the dietary supplement industry for over a decade, with a focus on regulatory issues, including at the Food and Drug Administration.

He has moderated and/or presented at industry trade shows, including SupplySide East, SupplySide West, Natural Products Expo West, NBJ Summit and the annual Dietary Supplement Regulatory Summit.

Connect with Josh on LinkedIn and ping him with story ideas at [email protected]

Education and previous experience

Josh majored in journalism and graduated from Arizona State University the same year "Jake the Snake" Plummer led the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes. He also holds a J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law, was admitted in 2008 to practice law in the state of Colorado and spent a year clerking for a state district court judge.

Over more than a quarter century, he’s written on various topics for newspapers and business-to-business publications – from the Yavapai in Arizona and a controversial plan for a nuclear-waste incinerator in Idaho to nuanced issues, including FDA enforcement of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

Since the late 1990s, his articles have been published in a variety of media, including but not limited to, the Cape Cod Times (in Massachusetts), Sedona Red Rock News (in Arizona), Denver Post (in Colorado), Casper Star-Tribune (in Wyoming), now-defunct Jackson Hole Guide (in Wyoming), Colorado Lawyer (published by the Colorado Bar Association) and Nutrition Business Journal.

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