Friday, October 25, 2013

The Selfish Diabetic

I have a slight case of diabetes, which has proven manageable by changes diet and lifestyle, without medication. But the diagnosis I originally received got me thinking about how a diabetic might look at the world.

One of the easiest things that can happen when one is diagnosed with the onset of diabetes is to become immensely selfish. It would be easy for a diabetic to ignore the problems of the rest of the world and say that his or her focus should be, aside from work and family, on maintaining his or her health. Where could such a person find the time to also worry about such things as global warming and world hunger?

This argument would be true if living happily with diabetes were a problem separate from others, and if it had a purely technical solution. But the diabetic has to choose how to live. And, as it turns out, living responsibly in the world is also the path to health despite diabetes.

As it turns out, the kinds of food that diabetics have to reject are the same kinds of food that are killing the global ecosystem. To live as a deliberately happy diabetic is to live in an ecologically responsible fashion. Among the things that I have to reject, to keep diabetes from developing, are refined sugar and fat meat. But these are also foods I must reject if I am to be a responsible world citizen. Some of the best tropical farmland in the Philippines is used to raise sugar, as an export crop, rather than to raise food for Filipinos. We Americans can pay more for sugar than poor Filipinos can pay for rice and beans. My use of sugar was contributing to keeping Filipinos poor. And fat beef? A vast amount of farm acreage in the United States is used to raise corn and soybeans not for human consumption but to feed to livestock, especially cows. Industrial farming, processing the corn and beans, feeding it to livestock, and processing the livestock uses a huge amount of energy, most of it from fossil fuels, and generates a lot of waste, including bovine-burp methane which is a potent greenhouse gas. I now eat less beef, thus reducing the market for some of the most environmentally destructive commercial practices. The change in diet I have to make is the change I should have made anyway. I had already, for ecological reasons, begun eating less sugar and beef; I just needed to go further in that direction. The right thing for me was also the right thing for the world. It didn’t have to be that way, but it is.

“The environment” is a misleading term. It is not just about rare birds and distant rainforests. The environment is everything that surrounds us, and includes us. The environment is the medium through which we relate to other people. Part of what we do to love other people is to help to keep the environment safe for them to live in.

Frequently, the best foods for diabetics are those that are not locally grown and are not available at all times of the year. That is, for most American diabetics, much good food must be transported thousands of miles and/or processed. Transportation and processing use a lot of energy and have a major impact on the environment. I thought about this when I bought fresh broccoli and lettuce in the winter. What do you think? Should I have done this? I also bought fresh carrots and cabbage. Carrots and cabbage can at least be stored for longer periods than broccoli and lettuce; they can be raised and stored locally, to a certain extent. Sugar comes from tropical farmlands; but stevia is an imported tropical product also. Unsweetened yogurt and dried fruits also have less environmental impact than fresh green vegetables in the winter. I say this in order to simply admit that a happy diabetic, eating from the vast table of foods that are healthy, will often encounter foods that are not “environmentally friendly,” even if they are pesticide-free. (Mushrooms? They can be local and year-round. All you need is a dark room and (let’s call it) mulch. And every place has mulch.)

Nevertheless, for the most part, a happy diabetic eats foods that are better for the environment and for the people of the world than he or she might otherwise have eaten. There is no need for a diabetic to cast aside a dedication to environmental and social responsibility in order to be a happy eater.

How does this relate to evolution? In the Stone Age, humans didn’t have to worry about the environment. Nowadays, there are so many of us and our technology is so toxic that every little thing we do is wrong. Don’t throw anything on the ground, etc. But we no longer live in the environment in which we evolved. We live in an environment thick with other human beings whose interests we must altruistically respect.

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