The Right Stuff

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The food section in my local paper on Monday featured Jewish foods and included a recipe for challah, the traditional Jewish braided egg bread ubiquitous on Sabbath and holiday tables.

I make a lot of challah myself: for my family, for community celebrations, and for events at the temple my family and I belong to. In fact, people say I make a pretty tasty version. But things can always be improved, and so I read the recipe with interest.

It had milk in it.

“Real” challah has neither meat nor dairy products in it. That’s because you’re not supposed to mix meat and dairy. If challah were made with milk, you wouldn’t be able to eat meat with it.

I thought about calling or e-mailing the features editor, but decided there was no point in doing so. There aren’t a lot of people in town it would matter to. Besides, the miniscule number of us here who bake challah know better than to put milk in it.

But it got me thinking about accuracy in the media and how many of us grit our teeth whenever we read an article or watch a news report about diabetes. As you probably know, the media usually gets something wrong. One of my favorites was the headline over an article about a person who had a procedure to cure her Type 1 diabetes. “No more insulin!” the headline proclaimed.

If I didn’t have diabetes, would I know that insulin is a naturally occurring hormone, and not a special medicine that only people with diabetes need? I don’t recall that I did, so I was inclined to give the editor a break on that one. Unlike the challah, however, the editor needed a call so she could, in the future, better help educate people about diabetes.

After all, many more people need to know about diabetes than need to know that challah shouldn’t have milk in it. What better way to educate people about diabetes than through general circulation publications and TV news reports? But they need to get it right.

As a reporter for more years than I care to admit, I understand how mistakes happen: Nobody can know about everything and, with decimated news staffs, reporters just don’t have enough time to find out all there is to know about simple issues, much less something as complex as diabetes.

(I’ve had reporters interview me, but only submit to it because I don’t feel it would be right for me to refuse to do something I subject others to. But it does frighten me. I know everything that can go wrong, because I’ve done it at some point during my career.)

If you see or hear an error about diabetes, grit your teeth, yell at the TV, give the newspaper a firm shake—whatever you need to do—but calm down before contacting the reporter. Ask yourself how much you knew about diabetes before your diagnosis. If you’re like me, not much. And, for me, not much for several years after diagnosis.

Be understanding. Acknowledge that diabetes is complex and difficult to understand, particularly if you don’t live with it. Point out the importance of the reporter’s role in helping to educate the public and stress that accuracy is essential. Reporters don’t really want to get it wrong—for one thing, at many news outlets, the reporter is the one who has to write the correction for his errors.

If you are the one being interviewed, or arranging for coverage, do what I do: Give the reporter plenty of written material. Yes, they can find things themselves, but we’re the ones who know what the best, most understandable materials are. Plus, it saves them time so they can pay more attention to getting the information right.

Try to set aside your prejudices. Yeah, yeah—it isn’t easy. But, while you may think low-carb and no medications are the only way to go, others may prefer another regimen. We all need to match diabetes to our own comfort level.

Won’t it be nice when the day comes that diabetes information is presented in an accurate, nonaccusatory, objective way? Maybe we can all do our part to bring that day about.

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