I was diagnosed this summer with Type One Diabetes. This, if you didn't know, is an autoimmune disease where my immune system has attacked my pancreas, and I can no longer produce insulin. (They don't know why this happens.... maybe a complication of Lyme Disease? No one is studying it; the medical machine around diabetes is quite lucrative). Getting the diagnosis was like mentally slamming into a brick wall. My body had already felt that way for some weeks. It's been a couple more weeks now, and I feel much better, thanks to the insulin shots I take four times a day. But dealing with this issue has been eye-opening as a farmer, especially an Organic one.
First, I thought I was eating pretty well. After all, I hadn't bought a vegetable or fruit from a store in about 18 years, and had my own meat. But, now, after meticulously measuring every aspect of every meal I eat, and needing to include a lot more fiber, I realized that I wasn't eating so well, and I definitely wasn't eating regularly. Having a salad with two out of three meals a day makes me feel great! Also, how can you have too much zucchini???? That gets shredded and put into nearly every dish too. Plus, now that I HAVE TO eat three meals a day, I'm back to cooking nice things on the weekend and stopping to eat every day, every meal. I guess that's better quality of life?! I had no idea how hard I was working until I actually had to stop to eat three meals, plus test my blood sugar six times a day. Four hours every day that I am no longer working. Quality of life, yes, but also, geeze, that's what it takes to run a farm: 5-9, not 9-5. I'll be spending the winter making some design changes to account for my new slower pace, and I'm not sure I'm happy about it, and also wondering if I should be.
Second, it's no wonder Americans are sick. Going out to eat as a diabetic is a nightmare. There's sugar in EVERYTHING. I look at menus with new eyes, and don't see much in the way of vegetables overall. When I order a salad, it's generally not that impressive: at it's best, nicely arranged items on a plate with the dressing meant to carry the whole thing. Usually with sugar in it. I've been gluten-free for awhile, and that's hard enough. Now try needing to know the carbs and sugar in meals and finding the sugar-free things that are also gluten free and tastey, dammit. Luckily, my German heritage works out: sausage and cheese are just fine.
Last, as an Organic farmer, I am naturally suspicious of The Military-Industrical-Pharmaceutical Complex. Now, I rely on synthetic insulin that is only produced by three companies, who keep changing the formula to keep a patent current, and thus, prices high. This, after the original inventor of insulin nearly gave away the patent so that it would be essentially public domain (see the recent NPR story about this). In my darker moments I eye up my pigs (originally pig insulin was used for diabetics). In my less dark moments, I can see with clear eyes that what I do -- what I work SO hard for -- to provide good, nutritionally packed, whole food to people, is an act of political rebellion. Resistance. Essential if we are to remain a free people. If we still are.
Dr. Clare Hintz has a B.S. Degree in Biology and Writing, a M.S. in Sustainable Systems with an emphasis in Agroecology, and a Ph.D. in Sustainability Education with a focus on Regenerative Agriculture. She currently teaches permaculture design and regenerative agriculture from her production permaculture farm in northern Wisconsin. She is the editor in chief of the Journal of Sustainability Education. In her spare time she knits, reads feminist science fiction and cooks really good food for friends.