This is a six-part series, originally published online in 2003. Since its online debut, this article has appeared on thousands of health websites around the world. It's posted in Africa, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, Europe, Asia, and has been translated into various languages.
Last week, you read Part Two. Those of you who have followed this column faithfully will be able to witness the devastation, and you will learn how to avoid the horrors associated with diabetes. My mother only lived 12 years after her diagnosis. Here is the continuation of her story.
This campaign kicked off after the loss of my mother who succumbed to Type 2 diabetes on December 25, 2000. Last week, I shared how mother lost both of her legs to amputations, had to have kidney dialysis for the last few years of her life; and she had at least seven strokes in 12 years. She was my age, 61 when she had her first major stroke, it caused paralysis. She ended up in Howard University Hospital, and it was during this particular hospital stay that her diabetes was discovered.
Last week, I shared the definition of diabetes mellitus, and how we get it. This week, I'm continuing with that research.
The problem dates back to the beginning of the slave trade, documented as beginning in 1790, and for those enslaved individuals, food was still scarce, thus the "thrifty genes" protected them. If you research the documentation found on record at the National Archives and Records Administration, slaves received rations. It really doesn't matter what their diets consisted of because African people hundreds of years ago, roamed around freely on the African continent, in townships like Johannesburg, Freetown, Rwanda, Sudan and Sierra Leone. What does matter is the fact that those Africans who managed to survive the slave trade here in America, arrived on the shores very strong. The majority of them worked in the fields from the time that the sun rose until sundown, six days a week, and in many cases, seven days a week. Slaves ate scraps, like hog mauls, chitterlings, pigtails, pig feet, pig ears, and they drank milk from a trough alongside other animals.
African people were no longer in their homeland, so to live, they had to eat whatever was made available to them, they were fed last, after the horses and the pigs, that's when they received whatever was left – the scraps.
In an effort to prepare delicious meals, the women worked at creating recipes that they could all enjoy. They loved collard greens with fat back meat, and learned to bake sweet potato pies, cleaned chitterlings and made them into a delicacy to be eaten on special occasions. They made pots of beans seasoned with ham hocks, or pigtails, and they seasoned the majority of the food with pork, a harmful, but longstanding tradition that still continues today. They made homemade biscuits from self-rising, white flour and lard, learned to make hush puppies, candied yams, all types of potatoes, and corn bread.
African people became Americanized beginning in the late 1700s. They had a very different diet than European Americans. Even though this wasn't a "good" or "healthy" diet for the slaves, they ate it, they enjoyed it, and they were able to sustain themselves easily. They worked so very hard in the fields 12-16 hours a day.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the work made the difference, 10-12 hours each day of physical labor, that's a lot of time spent exercising! Plus, they had the so-called "thrifty genes" which allowed their bodies to preserve food in an appropriate manner, when food was scarce. (Continued next week)