When I was growing up, we always had tinned fruit as part of Sunday tea. In those days, I’d never met a peach or a pineapple that didn’t come out of a can. Now that we can get mangoes, papaya and kiwifruit from an ordinary greengrocer, I hadn’t eaten the tinned stuff until I was in hospital last year.
I assumed it was a matter of economics and convenience that there was no fresh fruit on the menu. I soon learnt there were medicinal reasons too. Tinned fruit is lower in potassium and you don’t want to overdo the potassium if your kidneys are kaput.
Most of us are fluent in a variety show of faddy weight-reducing diets, even if we haven’t followed them ourselves. We know about peanut allergies, gluten-free options and that sugar is a no-no if you’re diabetic. Plant-based, vegetarianism or being vegan is no longer cranky, but I’d never heard of a low-potassium diet until I had to follow it myself.
As I said this time last year when I was still mourning my identity as healthy, the kidney diet is weird. But weird can be interesting in fiction, so why not put it in my next book? The challenge is to find a way of explaining the diet, and the potential hazards of non-compliance, without making it an information dump. I’m assuming the average reader will be as ignorant as I was.
So the latest flash fiction challenge gives me another opportunity to practice. Here’s the renal-diet version of commitment in a can:
The tins rattle in her trolley as she meanders down the aisles, averting her gaze from forbidden fruit. She’ll buy canned peaches although she’d prefer fresh mango. She’ll mash tinned chickpeas instead choosing avocados to make a dip for lunch.
She scans other shoppers’ baskets, but members of her species are as elusive as leopards. She spots tins – but for salty soup. She spots blueberries and porridge oats – but there’s frozen spinach too. Finally, a man she recognises from the dialysis unit. She’s about to greet him when he grabs a bumper bar of banned chocolate from the shelf.