Diabetics vs. The World: Combating Culture – By Kieran Rogers


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It’s not a particularly groundbreaking observation to state that the UK’s food culture, that is to say the wide scale treatment, production and promotion of foods, does not cater for its resident diabetics. When many of us are confronted by its lack of care on a daily basis, I’ve almost come to accept this as an irrefutable fact.

A good argument can be made over the necessity to cater for a specific condition. Admittedly, erecting diabetic friendly supermarkets would hardly be of benefit or relevance to the overwhelming majority; as of 2013, diabetics count for an estimated 4.6% of the UK’s population. But this statistic is not something that excuses the dominant food culture we’ve created for ourselves. Nor does it make it any easier for diabetics to live in that culture. The emerging truth is that, in a world where TV advertisements, bill boards and sparkling deals encroach our visual space, where the biggest fast food and chocolate chains can impact our choices, diabetics of any type not only face a battle against their own bodies, mindsets and will power, but a battle against culture.

If you’d like to see how this environment tries to influence us all, take a trip to your nearest supermarket. It’s right in front of us: the chocolate bars deliberately and cynically placed near the exits, prompting you into that last-minute purchase to satisfy any forgotten desires; the best deals found on sugary foods (highlighted in eye-catching colours); the unwholesome foods cheaper than the vegetables (£2 for 3 peppers, £1.65 for 8 Time Out bars). It’s a completely backwards ethos, one where you’re almost forced to choose the unhealthy option if you’re restricted financially.

Sadly, it’s not just the supermarkets; it’s cafes, bars, newsagents, restaurants and cinemas (where it’s your pick between a hotdog and a “pic n’ mix”). Unsurprisingly then, the lack of healthy options at such venues was one of the first things I noticed upon diagnosis that hadn’t been covered by my doctors, and that told me I was suddenly in a minority. No one else said it would be this way, said why or seemed to be doing anything about it.

Flash forward a decade and, considering media warnings of a diabetic pandemic and the various protestations on junk food ads, I’m now convinced we’re living in a paradoxical time. Sure enough, while some supermarkets are trying to raise awareness of the condition, it doesn’t stop them from putting low priced sugary food by the checkout. Of course, praise can be afforded to our supermarket overlords. Unlike cinemas they offer choice, but they also make it too easy to get sucked in.

I’m not an embittered diabetic. I am most thankful that I live in a country where food is readily accessible. I don’t blame food culture for having diabetes. I don’t blame it wholly for my decision to buy a sugary product, but it is a contributing factor to that decision (and to an extent, towards the Type 2 pandemic scenario). If it were a character, I see it as the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: a scary and personable thing, always lurking, always tempting.

The influence of the over commercialisation and cheap commoditisation of unhealthy food is surely case specific but, on a personal level, I’ve consistently struggled with my battle to eat healthily in a culture that’s telling me to do otherwise. I can also recall young diabetics in support groups unwavering in their addiction to Cola. Who knows to what extent the role of Santa Claus played, having told them to “believe” in Coke through various advertising campaigns. It’d be a foolish thing to undermine its force. We spend more time with culture telling us to do, than with our medical advisors telling us not to, after all.

I fully understand that none of this is a singular issue – which is why it is so important. Culture’s relationship to healthy eating has been a well-documented national concern, but it is perhaps even more important to diabetics, for whom good food is less of a choice and more of a requisite. My ultimate sympathies lie with the unassuming diabetics in-waiting. For many reasons (£), the UK’s food culture is unlikely to change for them. As soon as they’re diagnosed, they need to be informed that it’s down to the individual and the individual alone to resist temptation, to just say ‘NO’ to the surrounding messages and semantics. They need to know that this is just as much a part of the challenge in their new life. They, like the rest of us prior to our diagnosis and in the years after it, always need to be prepared to combat culture.

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