January 4th, 2013
My local library
“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour of our insides. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions inspired by our insides are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find names for flavors and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? We meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks—or has the courage—to ask. And we go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a bacteria transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal.Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies.
I’m anal retentive, in the traditional Freudian sense, so it took awhile for me to read this one, despite a deep love of Mary Roach’s writing. Her books are always fascinating, hilarious, and educational- three of my favorite things. And despite my initial hesitation with the whole “we’ll be visiting the colon in this book and poop may be mentioned”, this book was typical Mary Roach.
The book starts with the mouth, answering questions like “what’s the purpose of saliva”, delving into a one-time health fad of chewing each bite of your food 100 times before swallowing, etc. It moves, naturally, into the stomach, digestion, the intestines, and the colon. Roach explores the societal taboo as well as the medical history, current breakthroughs, and the truly important function of the digestive system as a whole.
And to be honest, I was far more grossed out about medical experiments conducted in the 1800s (pre-ethics committees) than anything else. There was plenty of “seriously?!” moments (like anal cancer. Did you know that was a thing? It’s a thing, and they don’t even have a ribbon color for it. That’s how messed-up our societal taboo against the butt is. We can’t even talk about something that kills people, because it’s unseemly).
It also coincided neatly with my own medical issues, which made me feel more empowered to ask intelligent questions of my doctor, and understand terminology he uses.
I highly recommend everyone read this, honestly. Not only because yay science, but because it’s so important to understand our bodies (BEFORE stuff starts going wrong with them). And who of us learned the ins and outs of digestion in public school?
I don’t recall ever learning, for instance, that the stomach lining tissue is regenerated every three days or so, because the stomach actually does digest itself (being caustic enough to digest everything else put into it). Or that there’s a valve that ensures material passed from the small intestine (where nutrients are absorbed) to the large intestine (where moisture is pulled out of waste) goes one direction only.
I digress. It’s science, it’s approachable, it’s filled with gleeful tongue-in-cheek humor, and it’s important. The audiobook version was good, except the narrator trying to do different voices actually got annoying after awhile (especially with the male voices).