Fantasy Mystery Romance Comics Non-Fiction

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Monday, June 16, 2014

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2013) Mary Roach

Gulp-Adventures-Alimentary-CanalI love Mary Roach. I would love to be trapped in an elevator with her (unless she’s claustrophobic, in which case, that seems unfair).

She is a science fan-girl of the best kind, and is unafraid to get into the nitty gritty details (and believe me, there are plenty of gritty details).

In 2009, the United States exported 438,000 tons of frozen livestock organs. You could lay them end to end and make a viscera equator.

One serving from the Fruits and Vegetables Group in Nirlungayuk’s materials is “1/ 2 cup berries or greens, or 60 to 90 grams of organ meats.”

Americans preferred bland preparations of muscle meat partly because for as long as they could recall, that’s what the upper class ate.

So powerful are race- and status-based disgusts that explorers have starved to death rather than eat like the locals.

And there are footnotes! I love footnotes!

So great was the Victorian taste for order that displaced organs constituted a medical diagnosis. Doctors had been misled not by plastic models, but by cadavers and surgical patients— whose organs ride higher because the body is horizontal. The debut of X-rays, for which patients sit up and guts slosh downward, spawned a fad for surgery on “dropped organs”— hundreds of body parts needlessly hitched up and sewn in place.

As well as bits of wisdom:

there is a point at which efficiency crosses over into lunacy, and the savings in money or resources cease to be worthwhile in light of the price paid in other ways.

There are many tasks I refuse to do, because I value my time more than my money.

Which doesn’t explain why I blog every book I read, does it?

But of course why I love Mary Roach best is her humor.

This suggests that saliva —or better yet, infant drool— could be used to pretreat food stains. Laundry detergents boast about the enzymes they contain. Are these literally digestive enzymes? I sent an e-mail to the American Cleaning Institute, which sounds like a cutting-edge research facility but is really just a trade group formerly and less spiffily known as the Soap and Detergent Association.

With no detectable appreciation for the irony of what he had written, press person Brian Sansoni referred me to a chemist named Luis Spitz. And when Dr. Spitz replied, “Sorry, I only know soap-related subjects ,” Sansoni— still without a trace of glee— gave me the phone number of a detergent industry consultant named Keith Grime.

I mean, how could you NOT love this bit?

(The whisking of semen is complicated by its coagulating factor. Should you wish to know more, I direct you to the mucilaginous strands of the World Wide Web.)

I think I highlighted most of the entire section on whether you could survive in the stomach of a whale. And also the entire section on the “prison wallet” or rectum.

And the entire chapter on defecation was fascinating and disturbing.

It (Cardio-vascular Events at Defecation) happens often enough that stool softeners are administered as a matter of course on coronary-care wards.

I mean, I was so curious about the bit about Elvis, I (warily) did a google search on megacolon. (Do so at your own risk. You have been warned.)

I finished this book with a sense of profound gratefulness that I have a normal, healthy, alimentary canal. Not that I didn’t feel that way before–I lived with a woman who visited the Digestive Disorders department at the doctor’s office on a regular basis for multiple problems–but this reminded me just how lucky I am.

I feel like I should go eat something to celebrate.
Rating: 10/10

Published by W. W. Norton & Company

Categories: 10/10, Non-Fiction, Science & Nature


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