Potluck Problems and Personal Responsibility

This past week, my work had a potluck. I love potlucks, but I always struggle with what to bring. I attended another potluck the week before, this time with friends. For that potluck, I decided to bring red quinoa with roasted beets, raspberries, and pistachios. While I thought it was delicious, I still ended up going home with a ton of leftovers. So for the second potluck, I wanted to make something that I knew would be a hit. I decided to make Oreo mini cheesecakes. Basically you put a full Oreo in the bottom of a cupcake holder and pour the cheesecake mixture on top, bake it, then let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.

When I brought my dessert to the potluck, everyone was really excited and the cheesecakes were going quickly. As we sat around the table, a coworker, about to take her first bite, turned to me and jokingly said, “So Reva, are you increasing our risk for diabetes with these?”

All eyes turned to me, “Um well, indirectly, yes,” I stammered out. There may have been some chuckles as everyone went back to eating the dessert, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this comment since. Not because I was offended at all, but because it really made me stop and think. I’ll start with the way the question itself was phrased. 

My coworker is incredibly smart, she also has her MPH, she knows about diabetes and she knows that I do too. Had she said to me, “Reva, are these going to give us diabetes?” or “Reva, are we going to have diabetes when we all finish these?” I would have easily said, No. That’s because although my dessert is well, a dessert and not healthy, eating it does not cause diabetes, definitely not type 1, but not type 2 either. But my coworker didn’t phrase it like that, she said, “is this going to increase our risk for diabetes?” For that answer, it depends on how you look at things and how much responsibility you as an individual want to take for the health of others.

Eating too many unhealthy desserts like my Oreo cheesecake can cause a person to gain weight. On the American Diabetes Association’s website, obesity and being overweight is listed as a risk factor and does increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. So with that in mind, you could argue that a person eating my dessert is indirectly increasing their risk of type 2 diabetes. But that’s putting a lot of responsibility on me and not taking into account the decision and free will of the other person. Yes, I am increasing access to an unhealthy food option, but I am not forcing you to eat. It is still your choice if you are going to eat 1, 3, half of one, or none at all. More than that, I have no control over what you do when you get home. Maybe you went to the gym and burned off that cheesecake, maybe you stopped at McDonalds on the way home. So am I really increasing your risk after all?

I found myself contemplating my sense of responsibility when it comes to the health of others. I know I do feel a greater sense of personal responsibility just because of the fact that I am in the field of public health. Perhaps I should have brought a fruit salad like I was first considering to the potluck instead of a dessert. Or if I made the dessert, perhaps I should have used low fat and fat free ingredients or sugar substitutes. But on the other hand, I also want to be able to bring whatever I feel like to a potluck without feeling guilty even if I personally don’t always enjoy the fruit (or cheesecakes) of my labor.

What is our responsibility when it comes to the health of those around us, whether as diabetics, health care professionals, or just as a fellow human beings? It’s a good question, and one that I think everyone needs to figure out for themselves.

Oh and here’s the recipe because they really were delicious! 😉
 Martha Stewart Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes
What You Need:
 21 cream-filled sandwich cookies, such as Oreos, 15 left whole, and 6 coarsely chopped
1 pound (16 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
Small pinch of salt
What You Need to Do:
1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Place 1 whole cookie in the bottom of each lined cup.
2. With an electric mixer on medium high speed, beat cream cheese until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Gradually add sugar, and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla.
3. Drizzle in eggs, a bit at a time, beating to combine and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in sour cream and salt. Stir in chopped cookies by hand.
4. Divide batter evenly among cookie-lined cups, filling each almost to the top. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until filling is set, about 22 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Refrigerate at least 4 hours (or up to overnight). Remove from tins just before serving.
5. Enjoy!

3 thoughts on “Potluck Problems and Personal Responsibility

  1. Firstly, these cupcakes sound amazing and I want to make them.

    Secondly, I think that you have a great point. For example, my supervisor keeps a jar of M&Ms in her office for anyone to have. Is she increasing the risk of diabetes in the office? Well she is increasing access to an easy and unhealthy snacking choice. We are all responsible for our own food intake and choices we make.

    However, on a population scale, the situation changes. As public health practitioners, we do have a responsibility to recognize that when a low-income family lives near very unhealthy restaurants and food stores, they don't necessarily have a choice regarding what they eat. I think this is exactly why it is so easy for fast food places to argue that they have no responsibility in the obesity epidemic because people have free will.

    Thanks for a great post!


  2. Thanks Raelle, and thanks for that insightful comment. So true about access when you look at the population level and the options and choices that exist (or don't exist)in certain situations.


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