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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach Updated 7/12/13 - added links to the New York Times Daily Show interview and the NY Times review

When it comes to literature about eating, science has been a little hard to hear amid the clamor of cuisine. Just as we adorn sex with the fancy gold-leaf filigree of love, so we dress the need for sustenance in the finery of cooking and connoisseurship…Yes, men and women eat meals. But they also ingest nutrients. They grind and sculpt them into a moistened bolus that is delivered via a stadium wave of sequential contractions, into a self-kneading sack of hydrochloric acid and then dumped into a tubular leach field, where is it converted into the most powerful taboo in human history. Jones made an exploding sound into the telephone. It was like that Monty Python sketch, the Wafer-Thin Mint, where the guy is gorging himself and finally he goes, “I’ll just have this one wafer-thin mint…’”)

 Animated Gif on Giphy
From GIPHY.COM

and the booming field of flatulence.

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From Flixter.com
(I bet you thought I was gonna go with the infamous bean scene from Blazing Saddles. I am much too classy for that. You will have to go there on your own. Just click this.)

And did you know that it was not only possible to ignite farts, but are some people who have flammable belches?

Roach gets to the bottom of the practice known as keistering, and hooping. Prison is a likely lab for such research into the use of the rectum as a cargo hold. The storage capacity is impressive, to the point that one inmate was referred to as OD for Office Depot, for his hooping capacity, actually used for keistering office supplies. I’m not using that stapler.

And you will be amazed at how much of a rat’s diet consists of material that…um…emerged from the rat. So on spotting a certain rodent in Orlando, try to stop yourself from asking what it is in that taco he is toting. And you do not want to be downwind of that breath.

The colon comes in for considerable examination, and figures in a surprising theory for the cause of death of a king. She comes clean in a look at the history, reasons for and abuses of enemas. And, of course Mary lets loose when she gets the scoop on pooping. She even notes a chart that delineates the seven different types. You know you want to see it.

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Bristol Stool Chart

Ok. Time to squeeze yourself off the boat. Be sure to tip the guide.

Roach always delights in reporting on names that are particularly apt.
my gastroenterologist is Dr. Terdiman, and the author of the journal article “Gastrointestinal Gas” is J. Fardy, and the headquarters of the International Academy of Proctology was Flushing, New York.
I suppose the academy might be better off in Richmond, VA, in the neighborhood called Shockoe Bottom, or maybe in Proberta, CA.

A couple of minor gripes. This book could really have used an index. And the chapter on feeding Spot and Fluffy, while interesting, seemed a bit of a digression from the main journey.

That said, reading Mary Roach is akin to the pure joy one experiences from things like Ripley’s Believe It or Not, with the benefit of knowing that there is no smoke and mirror involvement. Reality is soooooo weird. And we have Mary Roach to thank for refilling our occasionally dwindling mental storehouse of disturbing images, (You will never think of Elvis quite the same way after reading this book) and fascinating scientific facts, like the possible origin for the belief in fire-breathing dragons or the medical efficacy of fecal transplants.

There is never a doubt that Mary Roach will make you laugh and teach you things you never knew before. What could be better? Ok, I mean aside from the Blazing Saddles clip.

==============================EXTRA STUFF

Here is the full vid of the wafer thin mint bit, aka Mr. Creosote. Don’t even try watching this if you get queasy easily. It requires a very strong stomach or a very weak mind.

The May 2013 issue of Smithsonian Magazine features an article by Roach, The-Gut-Wrenching-Science Behind the World’s Hottest Peppers and there is another piece in that issue that may be of interest, Why You Like What You Like by Tom Vanderbilt. BTW, the articles are named differently in the magazine and on the web site.

Town Hall Seattle has an excellent audio presentation by Roach

Mary is interviewed on NPR

And in the New York Times

There is a wonderful interview with Mary on The Daily Show, a two parter. Here is Part 1 and here Part 2

Janet Maslin’s NY Times review