Oh Pioneer Woman!

There are some people in the world who just can’t help being polarizing. You either love them or hate them; there’s rarely any indifference.

One of these figures is the Pioneer Woman, a.k.a Ree Drummond. A mother of four and wife of a rancher, Drummond blogs about life in the Oklahoma country. Her fans are rabid, and eat up every one of her posts (and she posts a lot: her website has multiple sections, including Confessions, Cooking, Photography, Home & Garden, Tasty Kitchen, Homeschooling, and a new component, Entertainment). She also has a love story/memoir and cookbook out now, and is working on another one, due next year. Anyone who is not firmly on Team Ree is usually berated in the comments sections of her website, told to “stop hating” and urged to “get a life.” There’s really no room for discussion. 

Drummond calls herself an “accidental country girl,” and makes a big deal about being a city girl transplanted to the middle of nowhere. This isn’t exactly true; yes, she did live in Los Angeles for a few years, but that was while she was at USC. She actually grew up on a country club not too far from where she lives now. And that’s the problem that detractors have with her; they believe she’s not honest about what she has, which includes lots of outside help and a shit ton of money. Many are also offended by her referring to her brother as “retarded” (her website has actually been sanitized within the past few months, and many instances where she originally used the word “retarded” have been changed to “developmentally delayed”). It really irks them to see her new Food Network Show, Pioneer Woman, touted as an “authentic” look at her life on the ranch.

I tuned into the first episode Saturday, and must say, it didn’t feel all that authentic. It seemed as though Food Network couldn’t strike a balance between showing off life at the ranch and the cooking segments (this week’s recipes were chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes with about 98 sticks of butter, marinated tomato salad, breakfast sandwiches, and some beverage monstrosity that mixed milk and juice…puke). The whole premise of the show actually would work better if it was a straight reality show, perhaps showing what it’s like to ship cattle one week, start up homeschooling the next, and so on. It was pretty sad that in the show’s title sequence, Drummond calls herself a writer, blogger, and photographer, but never alludes to being a cook. Why am I watching a cooking show on Food Network hosted by someone who is not considered a cook, although much of her blog’s popularity stems from her recipes? That rubbed me the wrong way. As it stands now, the show just doesn’t work for me.

For all the anti-Drummond websites (Pioneer Woman Sux, Marlboro Woman, and Pie Near Woman), there are about a billion more that sing her praises. She has spawned countless imitators, who also photograph every.single.step of a recipe and give their husbands cutesy blog nicknames (PW’s goes by Marlboro Man). I am actually one of the few who fall in the middle when it comes to PW; I totally understand why people eat up her posts, which focus on the simplicity of living away from it all, but I also get why it pisses others off that she talks about being a regular woman as she snaps away on her $8,000 camera. Her recipes are a little too dependent on processed food for my liking, and I don’t enjoy how right-leaning many of her commenters seem to be. I don’t love her, but I just can’t hate her.

You never know what’s going to propel someone to stardom, and I don’t think Drummond went out of her way to become famous. I do think, though, that once the attention started, she didn’t shy away from it, and has become a rather shrewd businesswoman. I’m curious to see what this “accidental country girl” does next.

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Catherine

Catherine is a Southern California based freelance writer, whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. The highlight of her life (so far) was being featured on MSNBC for a story she wrote on Hello Kitty wines...she knew one day her love of all things HK would come in handy.

15 thoughts on “Oh Pioneer Woman!”

  1. Anything that carries a Little House on the Prairie vibe is going to tap into something strong among the American public. But I look at Ree the way I look at, say, certain vegans I went to college with: these are people who give up modern amenities primarily because they want to be able to talk about how interesting they think they are.

  2. So I really like PWSux and Pie Near Woman – they’re hilarious, well-written sites. A lot of the women who run and participate on these sites are people who are actually living some version of the life that Ree claims as her own. They run ranches, or homeschool their kids, or whatever else. And I think what gets under their skin so much is that such things are really freaking hard to do. The fact that Ree claims to “keep it real” when she’s got a host of support staff and literally millions of dollars is incredibly frustrating, especially when you’re living the real-life version of the idealized nonsense she publishes. Ree’s started admitting to some of that, but when she was claiming that she’s waking up at 5 to wrangle (??) cattle, homeschooling her kids herself, cooking time-intensive (and butter/cream-laden) meals, and running a massive blog all by herself, it was just ridiculous. She makes it seem like doing all of this is not only possible, but effortless – and clearly, it isn’t. Yes, they go a bit far sometimes, but their strong dislike of her isn’t random or unwarranted. PW is an incredibly popular blog, and it’s perpetrating a HUGE fraud.

    I think a big part of the reason that they’ve dug so deep into financial records etc is because there really is a legion of people who are obsessed with Ree, and the best way to counter accusations of “you’re lying” is with cold hard facts. Also because the deeper you dig, the more complete and utter nonsense surfaces, and it’s interesting to see just how far down the rabbithole this whole story goes.

    1. I agree with you that Pie Near Woman is hilarious; she definitely knows how to do satire, and she does it well. And like I said in the piece, I get why people are annoyed by PW, especially those who actually do live on ranches or in the country or whatever. It just seems like there are better people to go after (can’t they dig up dirt on like, Michelle Bachmann?).

  3. I don’t think anyone hates Ree Drummond. Hate is a very strong word to use, and people use it too often. It is possible to disagree with someone, or to dislike their “brand” without hating them. I think what people dislike is the disingenuousness of the Pioneer Woman. She is not like the typical American woman. Ree Drummond comes is part of an extremely wealthy family, with corporate holdings all over the world. She’s not just a “down-home” rancher. Her money has provided her the opportunity to promote her brand, which is not particularly interesting, new or unique. Her cooking is gawd-awful, and yet … there she is on television with a cooking show. My 15 year-old son is a better cook, and he never uses processed ingredients ~~ only fresh. If he had a cooking show, he would actually teach people how to cook, now how to open a can of cream of chicken soup and throw it in.

    There are SO MANY, MANY good, interesting blogs out there, I think people are wondering how the Pioneer Woman’s became so popular. Promotion, promotion, promotion. Oh, and delete any negative comments… People are not allowed to question her or disagree with her.

    I don’t hate her; however, I would never buy what she has to sell. I can get a much better product almost anywhere else. And you know what? The Pioneer Woman knows it.

    1. I’ll respectively disagree with you on one thing: You might not hate her, but there are plenty who do. I’m not even saying that the people who run those sites hate her, but there are definitely people out there that do.

      Again, I see why people are turned off from her and think that she doesn’t “keep it real” (I don’t think she does either). Of course there are better blogs out there, and I wish that those hidden gems could get more recognition. But, until the world magically becomes fair, that won’t happen. Don’t buy PW’s stuff, don’t watch her show, and maybe she’ll go away. I doubt it, but who knows! :)

  4. I first stumbled onto Pioneer Woman’s blog several years ago. I kind of loved her. I liked that her recipes were simple but still reasonably wholesome and delicious, and she had a unique style of photographing food (now that you point it out, though, those photos are only so drool-inspiring because they are taken with a camera that costs a bazillion dollars). I’ve never been a rabid fan, but I’ve always liked her and I’d go to her site now and again to find a cool recipe for a party or to check out how she made this or that. I’d noticed about a year ago that her site had blown up into this huge thing with all these news sections and that she’d definitely become a ‘brand’ somewhere along the way. I kind of lost interest after that.

    Last year around Thanksgiving I saw her on that show “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” where novices and up and coming chefs and cooks compete against Bobby Flay to make themed meals. He came to her ranch to compete over Thanksgiving fare (she won). It was all over for me after that. The footage of her ranch made it fairly obvious that this is an extremely wealthy and privileged woman, so her whole schtick about being a poor city girl planted in the heart of country bumpkinville without many resources and only the food and crafts to pass the time just seemed so fake. And Ree herself came off very unlikeable in that episode. It was clear she’d been drinking her own kool-aid. Not one ounce of humility. The entire show was nothing but her incessant bragging and cheesing for the camera. It was fairly obvious from that episode that something was already in the works for her. Her cocky air just proved it. So when they announced her show a few weeks back I was just like, ‘oh crap…I knew it.’

    I dunno if I even want to watch it. I mean, I’ve got Paula for when I want southern style, good old fashioned artery clogging home cooking. And that woman will NEVER be Paula. Over my dead body.

    1. Yes, she definitely seems to be drinking her own Kool Aid. I also agree that the wheels were already in motion for her show when she did the Throwdown. I’ve made a few Paula Deen recipes that were huge hits (like her strawberry pretzel salad…yummm), and a few PW recipes that were “meh” at best. I will definitely stick to my Paula recipes!

  5. I went through a phase a few years ago where I was obsessed with sites like The Pioneer Woman and Hillbilly Housewife. Their lives are so much different than mine and I couldn’t help but fantasize about this “simple” more off the grid life that they have. For a good month I was all shopping at the farmer’s market only and making my own bread. Then I realized that I lived in an 8×10 bedroom in a windowless apartment on the 3rd floor of a falling-apart building in Brooklyn and I should probably just give up the dream. Then I probably went downstairs to the bodega to get a thing of Oreos.
    I don’t hate her now, because I don’t read her. I suspect if I did I probably would develop the seething resentment I have of all people like her. Smug mommies with fancy stuff.

    1. I’ve never heard of the Hillbilly Housewife, but the fact that my life is so different from hers is definitely why I went to PW. I think about living a more simple life for about five seconds, and then I get over it and go get myself some Coffee Bean! I’m impressed that you made your own bread for a month…I don’t have the patience to even try once!

  6. Don’t forget the illustrated children’s book!

    I read her occasionally – she’s funny, and her photography is often very, very good indeed. I don’t like her gender stereotypes (what?! I’m a feminist and all) and I’ve never tried any of her recipes, but I don’t get the hate. And I seriously don’t get the hate websites (or indeed those directed at any bloggers – there’s a few for The Feminist Breeder as well AFAIK): seriously, who spends their time maintaining such a fundamentally negative place? Who ARE these people?

      1. Also, the sites against her go deep – like, looking into financial records and digging up dirt on relatives deep. You have to wonder why they chose her as their target. It’s kind of scary; I don’t think for one second these people are going to stalk her or anything (I’m more afraid that her rabid fans will), but the fact that they feel it’s important to expose these things is too intense for me.

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