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I don’t remember who recommended today’s title to me.  I tried to thank who I thought it was, but they only looked at me like I had a third eyeball, and had no idea what I was talking about.

Written by Mary Roach, who the Washington Post describes as “America’s funniest science writer”, “Gulp” attempts to make what could be a torturous read into something very readable, interest grabbing, and even chuckle-inducing, albeit at times crude, as it discusses topics generally considered taboo amongst the genteel.

Subtitled “Adventures on the Alimentary Canal”, it’s hard to fathom how a book on this topic could be considered interesting, let alone become popular. Yet, it is, if only because Roach takes such an unusual take on the subject, often adding in interesting material that is appropriate to whatever area of the canal she is describing at the time.

The author, though sometimes blunt and even crude in the book says, “I have tried, in my way, to exercise restraint… I don’t want you to say, ‘This is gross.’  I want to you say, ‘I thought this would be gross, but it’s really interesting.’  Okay, and maybe a little gross.”

Roach begins with the nose though this is technically above the alimentary canal, but plays into taste and eating.  She travels southward along the canal highlighting interesting sights and smells until she gets to the, ummm, end.

In the chapter “Nose Job” the importance of smell and how it adds to our sense of taste is exemplified through beer, wine, and olive oil smellers.  Did you know there are professional “smellers” and that it is not an inherent skill?  It can be learned, like a language, with “exposure and practice”.

From smell, she moves to taste, and devotes a whole chapter to the science and taste of dog food, going from there into the science of why we eat what we eat and why we despise other foods.  Worldwide, organ meats dominate some areas.  Not so much in the U.S. (I still have awful memories regarding certain organ meats prepared by my mother, in what I assume was an exercise in frugality, because I certainly didn’t consider it to be a successful plan for taste.)

Fletcherism was something I’d never heard about.  In the early 20th century, Horace Fletcher was a huge proponent of extreme chewing.  The fact he ever gained a following is amazing.  In Fletcherism, food is chewed until the food in the mouth is liquidized.  One-fifth of an ounce of green onion takes 722 “mastications before disappearing through involuntary swallowing.” Fletcher felt that extreme chewing would increase the nutrition absorbed into the body, resulting in the eater receiving double the nutrition.  This would save on the US’s overall food costs and result in less, you know, waste.

Roach continues her narrative asking many of the questions most of us have wondered about, but refused to verbalize.  Why do animals eat their own poop?  Why wasn’t Jonah dissolved by stomach acids when he was swallowed by the great fish?  Why doesn’t your stomach eat itself until there is nothing left?  Why is flatulence so disgusting?

Then there were a few questions she answered, that actually, I had never even considered asking.  Sudden death by defecation?  In there.  How do prisoners smuggle contraband into prison?  And what might they try smuggling?  Yep, it’s covered.  How about suicide bombing by placing explosives where the moon doesn’t shine?  Not effective, but she explains why.  Fecal transplants?  What???!!  And even more, WHY?  Question answered.

You may, or may not, enjoy this romp through the alimentary canal.  It certainly opened my eyes to much more than I dreamed it would.

Joplin Public Library also has several other of Mary Roach’s books, including “Stiff:  the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers”, “Packing for Mars:  the Curious Science of Life in the Void”, “Spook:  Science Tackles the Afterlife”, and “Grunt:  the Curious Science of Humans at War”.   All these are available in print, “Gulp” is also available in downloadable audio through our e-content consortium at http://www.molib2go.org.

 

 

 

 

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