Mike’s Pig Pen Owner Apologizes. Was it Worth it?

A sign asking for people with diabetes to take insulin in the bathroom is condemned online, and the owner of the business is harassed for it.



Opinion

In the past three years that I’ve worked with the Type 1 community, I’ve proudly watched Type 1 advocacy mature into a potent political force. I’ve witnessed people affected by Type 1 use online organizing and on-the-ground lobbying to change laws and raise awareness, making life better for everyone with diabetes.

Along the way, I’ve also seen this community experience growing pains, a phenomenon that happens with all social movements. I’ve watched as online groups devolved into name-calling and trolling before splintering. I’ve cringed at the tone some with Type 1 have taken when discussing those with Type 2 diabetes. I’ve wondered when things might get out of hand.

I may have witnessed just such an instance this past week with the saga over Mike’s Pig Pen, a barbecue joint in Watertown, New York.

A quick run-down of what happened: On June 8th, a Facebook user posted a sign hanging in the restaurant:

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News of the sign went viral throughout the Type 1 community. Cornell dug himself in deeper by being inarticulately defensive in response to the original poster:

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Within 48 hours, Yelp was inundated with angry reviews for the restaurant; Yelp has since suspended the review process because of the deluge of negative reviews. Google erroneously lists the restaurant as permanently closed – one assumes because of online shenanigans. The url that hosted the restaurant’s webpage was bought and now links to a fundraising page for the American Diabetes Association. The owner, Mike Cornell, deleted the barbecue joint’s small Facebook page, but another one for haters has sprung up.

(FYI – I reached out to Mr. Cornell for comment, but he has not, as of yet, responded to my call or Facebook message.)

By June 9th, Cornell was being interviewed by the local news crew, and he was looking bewildered and scared. He managed a “if I offended anyone I’m sorry” type of apology.

Sign down. Ignorant person backtracks from his offensive position. Day saved. Right?

Not in my opinion.

I believe that the punishment did not fit the crime – it was a sign with a politely worded, if unreasonable, request. Maybe such outrage would have been more justified if someone had been actively thrown out for dosing (in fact, I would have loved to have seen an injection sit-in to force Cornell’s hand). For this sign, Cornell had his livelihood threatened. It’s hard not to sympathize with him as he pleaded, unsuccessfully, for everyone to calm down:

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We live in an age when a business’s internet presence is its lifeblood. The restaurant had a very small online footprint before this controversy, and now it will forever be branded as the barbecue joint that was insensitive to people with diabetes. Only time will tell if it can recover.

My other concern is that this victory against Mike’s Pig Pen may actually set the Type 1 community back. Perry White (Superman?), a local newspaper editor who injects insulin for his Type 2 diabetes, condemned the campaign against Cornell as excessive:

“First, there are so many blatant violations of peoples’ true freedoms that storming the castle over something like this merely serves to trivialize the fights that should be fought, and marginalizes the combatants in those battles,” he wrote in an editorial.

(I also emailed Mr. White for comment, but have not received a response.)

Another customer of the restaurant, who has diabetes and takes insulin, saiid in the news report that he only injects in private. Both he and White reflect a generational divide – older users tend to want to inject in private, while younger users are more comfortable than their predecessors when it comes to injecting in public. In any case, we did not win the hearts and minds of those two insulin users, and I doubt very much that Cornell will be taking part in a JDRF walk anytime soon. Watertown has a population of about 27,000 people, and it stands to reason that a good amount of that population sides with Cornell.

People with Type 1 diabetes are rare, and so ignorance of Type 1 diabetes is not. It’s not that we need as a community to say “please” and “thank you” when confronted with diabetes ignorance. Rather, I would love to see us embrace such ignorance as teachable moments. It would be great if someone who sees a similar sign in the future talk to the person who erected the sign face to face before posting about it publically on Facebook. Another good idea might be for diabetes advocacy organizations to have rapid response teams to do teach-ins in communities where discrimination against people with diabetes occurs.

The Type 1 community is growing powerful, and many more people are being open about their Type 1 self-care. That means we are going to be confronted with similar examples of ignorance. It would be good to think of how we can educate others when faced with diabetes stupidity, rather than take revenge for the slight.

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.