Is it just coincidence that Thanksgiving – the holiday most infamous for excess and overindulgence – falls at the end of Diabetes Awareness Month? I would argue that most Americans know the history of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower – even the symbolism of the turkey – better than the history of diabetes or insulin. That needs to change. It is altogether fitting and proper that we pay homage to the swine on Thanksgiving, a creature that has contributed significantly to diabetes with very little acknowledgement.
Yes, without a doubt we are indebted to the dog and the cow as well. I’m happy to say that researchers left the dog population alone early on. They asked themselves, “Where can we get mountains of animal organs to make this crudely-purified, liquid hormone elixir?” It was then that they turned to livestock: pigs and cows, already destined for human consumption. Eli Lilly, god bless him, actually had trainloads of organs, fresh from the slaughterhouses, delivered each day to the insulin factory. Just think, before this discovery, pancreases were just a byproduct to stuff into hot dogs! Behold, a perfect example of early repurposing.
Pigs, however, should hold a sacred space in the heart of people with diabetes: the amino acid sequence of pig insulin and human insulin is almost identical. It differs by only one little amino acid! Cow insulin, though the cloudy fluid was certainly used for decades, is less similar – it has three different amino acids from humans. (Any port in a storm, right folks?) There are many of us who’ve had diabetes long enough to remember the little silhouettes of pigs and cows on the insulin bottles, right? You think it’s bad knowing where your meat comes from? I’ve said enough.
As the turkey represents the advancing relationship of the Pilgrims and Natives, so the pig should represent the advancement in diabetes research and treatment. I hereby nominate the swine as the diabetes hallmark, hero, mascot, patron saint and/or totem. We need to be grateful for the pig-part sacrifices, to pay tribute to their contribution to our longevity and to honor, salute or even recognize their role in our very survival. November is an entire month of diabetes awareness while Thanksgiving is but a single day.
Remember what the swine population gave you, my diabetic brothers and sisters, and put a pork roast in the center of your table this year. And when you go around the table saying what you’re grateful for, please don’t forget the pig.
Happy Thanksgiving from Podder Talk! In the spirit and gratitude surround Thanksgiving, we asked some folks around the Diabetes Online Community to promote the positive and share something about diabetes they’re thankful for. Check them out!