Making Food-and Diabetes-Easier To Swallow

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One of the fun things I did this week was, of all things, a cooking demonstration. One of the companies in town, which makes baking products, hosts a demo every week. When its chef is unavailable, it calls on people from the community. For some reason, I got a call asking if I would do a demo on Jewish food.

I chose a date during Passover, an eight-day period during which many Jews refrain from eating anything with leavening. Originally, I was going to include a cake among my offerings, to show how you could make a baked product rise without using leavening. Through a quirk—I failed to buy one of the ingredients I would need for the cake and it was unavailable locally—I changed that to a matzoh kugel, or pudding. Since I’d already planned to demo two other dishes that used matzoh, that meant a trio of foods with a common theme: matzoh.

Matzoh, or unleavened bread, is made from flour and water only and usually resembles a giant, salt-free saltine cracker. It’s dry. It’s bland. To some people it’s truly the “bread of affliction,” as it has been termed. But from that dry, pretty much tasteless square of baked flour and water can come some pretty amazing and tasty treats. Light, fluffy dumplings floating in a bowl of golden chicken soup. A Passover version of French toast called matzoh brei, served up with syrup, jelly, or cinnamon sugar. A “bread” pudding, bursting with the flavors of apples, raisins, almonds, and cinnamon.

But before people can appreciate what you can do with matzoh, you have to eat it in its unadulterated state. So I first passed around pieces of plain ol’ matzoh to the audience, most of whom had never eaten—or even seen—it before. Nobody had much to say about the matzoh, but had plenty to say about the tastiness of the dishes made using matzoh.

Then I thought that that, perhaps, that was an allegory for diabetes. I’m not overly fond of matzoh, but I put up with it during the eight days of Passover. However, I can add ingredients to it to make it more palatable.

I don’t like having diabetes. You may not, either. While we have no choice in that matter, perhaps we can do something to make it more palatable—either to ourselves or to others.

There are those who have done that, and in a big way. Two who come to mind, Jeff Hitchcock and Michael Robinton, each have a child with Type 1 diabetes. Jeff Hitchcock founded Children with Diabetes (, the foremost gathering place and support group for parents whose children have diabetes. Michael Robinton took on Insulin Pumpers ( and created the ultimate Web site and support group for people who use insulin pumps.

Rabbi Hersch Meisels, an observant Jew who has Type 1 diabetes, created Friends With Diabetes (, which marries his knowledge of both the Jewish religion and diabetes to create a place where observant Jews can get support and learn how to fit their diabetes into the special considerations of their religious practices.

Much like a matzoh kugel, their groups have multiple ingredients, including conferences, chat rooms, mail lists, links to resources, and so on.

Others, like the matzoh balls, may have fewer ingredients. Deb started a pump support group in the Boston area. Sandy, an RN/dietitan/CDE in Indiana, has hosted dinners where she teaches the participants about the relationship between diabetes and food.

Perhaps, however, most of us are like the two-ingredient matzoh brei: just two people, one who’s had diabetes for a while and one who has just found out that he or she has diabetes. For example, somebody once gave me a book about diabetes when I didn’t know such books existed. Somebody else went with me to select my first blood glucose meter. Another person used to come by every morning to go for a walk in the park with me. Still another would chat on the computer with me when I first started taking insulin. It was support that was meaningful to me. People who didn’t have diabetes let me know they cared. People who did have diabetes let me know I wasn’t alone.

Since then, I’ve tried to do what I can for others. I’ve given books. I’ve lent an ear. I’ve offered encouragement. Hopefully, my background as a reporter and knowledge of diabetes has resulted in articles about diabetes that have been of help to somebody.

Maybe we can’t make diabetes more palatable, but perhaps by offering our support we can help to make it easier to swallow.

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