I despair that Mary Roach may soon run out of bodily functions. She has written science books about the dead (Stiff), the after-dead (Spook), and sex and what passes for it (Bonk). Now she is back with Gulp (W.W. Norton, $26.95), about how our bodies process whatever we put into our mouths from the time we smell it, taste it, and chew it until it is unceremoniously ejected into its spiraling, watery grave.
And it is fascinating stuff! Roach’s modus operandi is to track down and converse with the scientists and specialists who study everything from whether your mouth really waters when you smell something cooking to how fast a bolus of food travels through your intestines to whether or not your stomach could rupture from overeating (no) or whether a cadaver’s stomach will burst if it is posthumously over-fed (yes).
Roach’s science reporting is never compromised, but neither does she let pass a good story, trenchant observation, or smart-ass comment. Roach is simply fascinated by what our body does, even at its most disgusting, and factually documents it all. But she also knows that we have dirty minds, and snickers along with the rest of us. In a chapter on “Why We Eat What We Eat and Despise the Rest,” she cannot resist commenting on a study being done on how to get us to eat pig testicles and like them. She gleefully reports that the work is being conducted “at – fill my heart with joy! – Ball State University.”
Her topics are at times so gross – Gulp is subtitled, “Adventures on the Alimentary Canal” – and her humor so precise that we may forget what an extraordinary science writer she is (her reports are carried by the New York Times and other august publications), and the amount of research she slogs through to run down every detail. Except it isn’t a slog for her or us, due to her fascination with the people telling her about their studies. In short, she re-awakens in us that teenage lust for learning anything, so long as it is wrapped in a suitably irreverent package
Roach’s website (maryroach.net) greets us with a sketched roach crawling across our screen. Once we squash it with a flick of our cursor, we read that Roach is a Down-Easter who graduated from Wesleyan before fleeing to San Francisco with friends in 1981. After stints in PR and freelance editing, she gravitated to writing books. She has won awards for her writing, Roach tells us, but don’t get too impressed. “A 1995 article of mine called "How to Win at Germ Warfare" was a National Magazine Award Finalist, and in 1996, my article on earthquake-proof bamboo houses took the Engineering Journalism Award in the general interest magazine category, for which I was, let's be honest, the only entrant. I often write about science, though I don't have a science degree and must fake my way through interviews with experts I can't understand.”
Roach is that prof we had in undergraduate school whose class we never cut, the one who kept our attention not just through her erudition but because we needed to be alert to whatever outrageous topic she would tackle or profane story she would tell next. Roach’s wit may be dry, but her writing is wet and juicy.
David Treadwell: Hey, Have You Read… ?
In preparation for a trip to Florida in March, I polled my Facebook friends, asking, “What are your three favorite books of all time?” Eighty people responded, much to my surprise. The recommendations ranged from the classic (“War and Peace” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”) to the contemporary (“Becoming” and “Americanah”) to the highbrow (“Die at the Right Time: A Subjective Cultural History of the American Sixties” and “The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life”). Several people suggested books with a Florida background (“92 in the Shade,” “Bad Monkey” and “Rum Punch”). Or good beach reading (books by Louise Penny). Others went the scientific route (“Adventures in the Alimentary Canal”. And one guy suggested “Born to Run,” noting that there should be some “non-intellectual” options. (Actually, I’d read “Born to Run.” Fine book.)
Obviously, I’d struck a good nerve with great results. Avid readers love to share book ideas with other readers. My mother “Moo” and I shared book ideas for years indeed, many of my “bests” (listed below) were her recommendations. My father “Paw”, on the other hand, limited his reading to “Scientific American” and to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he could follow “his” Phillies and “his” 76ers. I did strike gold when I suggested that he read, “Bringing Down the House: the Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions.” That was a safe bet since he graduated from M.I.T., and was an expert card-counter. He spent many happy days winning money while playing blackjack in Atlantic City, a lucrative hobby he pursued well into his nineties.
Happily, Midcoast Maine is a haven for good readers. I belong to two coed book groups, one in the summer and one for the rest of the year. All of my good friends share book ideas. We are blessed to have access to the superb Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick with its friendly professional staff, excellent collections, and spacious reading areas. And Gulf of Maine Books is a real jewel, featuring the quirkily charming Gary Lawless and his savvy wife and business partner Beth Leonard, whose many duties include setting out tempting books on the counter.
Asking Facebook friends to cite their three favorite books got me thinking about the best books I’ve read during my life. It’s impossible, of course, for serious readers to limit themselves to just three selections so I haven’t. Anyway, here’s my list in no particular order. To save space, I have included only the author’s last name.
“Angle of Repose” (Stegner), “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” (Hardy), “Lonesome Dove” (McMurtry), “Drinking the Rain” (Shulman), ‘Prince of Tides” (Conroy), “English Creek” (Doig), “Farewell to Arms” (Hemingway), “Middlemarch” (Eliot), “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Lee), “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (Stowe), “A Night to Remember” (Lord), “She’s Not There” (Boylan), “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” (McCullers), ‘Native Son” (Wright), “All the Light We Cannot See” (Doerr), “Alexander Hamilton” (Chernow), “Killer Angels” (Shaara), “The Diary of a Young Girl” (Frank),”Sophie’s Choice” (Styron), “Anna Karenina” (Tolstoy), “Grapes of Wrath” (Steinbeck), “The Goldfinch” (Tarrt), “The End of Your Life Book Club” (Schwalbe), “Benjamin Franklin” (Isaacson), “The World is My Home.A Memoir” (Michener), “Shipping News” (Proulx), “Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life” (Lamott), “Dubliners” (Joyce), “The English Patient” (Ondaatje), “Americanah” (Adichie), “Between the World and Me” (Coates), “Let the Great World Spin” (McCann), “Cold Mountain” (Frazier), “The Collected Stories” (Updike), “Beloved” (Morrison) and “Leadership in Turbulent Times” (Goodwin).
There you have it. If just one person is inspired to read just one extra book as a result of this column, then I’ll be content. Thanks for your indulgence.
David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]
Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
I write about a lot of depressing subjects, and sometimes a change of pace is welcome. Mary Roach, billed as “America’s funniest science writer,” has followed up on her earlier explorations of cadavers (Stiff), sex (Bonk), the afterlife (Spook), and survival on spaceships (Packing for Mars) with a new book entitled Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.
Forget all that mythology about diet, detoxification, and 10-year-old hamburger accretions in the bowel. The reality of human digestive physiology is far more interesting and has the extra-added attraction of being true. And in Roach’s hands, often howlingly funny. She is a hands-on investigative reporter who is ready to try anything among other adventures she inserts her entire arm in a cow’s stomach. Her highly entertaining odyssey takes her to Igloolik to eat narwhal skin, to a dog food tasting lab in Missouri, to Minnesota to observe a fecal transplant, and to strange and exotic outposts at the cutting edge of science, populated by colorful characters.
She also delves into intriguing vignettes of history. Did you know that when President Garfield was dying from complications from an assassin’s bullet, he was fed exclusively by rectum? She gives the recipe and describes the offensive odors that pervaded the whole house.
She describes how the Catholic Church grappled with the question of whether rectal consumption of beef broth would break one’s Lenten fast. Pharmacists had been selling bouillon enemas to nuns and other pious Catholics to sustain them through the fast. According to the Vatican rules on fasting, food was defined as passing through the mouth, so nourishment by enema was apparently okay. But they weren’t entirely sure, and they actually considered applying the scientific method to matters of faith:
An experiment was proposed whereby volunteers would be fed strictly by rectum. If they survived, the enema would have to be considered food and therefore banned. If they didn’t, the definition would remain as is, and some vigorous penance would be in order. In the end, nobody volunteered and the nuns continued…to welcome the clysters.
Roach tells us that hydrogen sulfide, the odor of rotten eggs, is as lethal, molecule for molecule, as cyanide. It is offensive to our noses at 10 parts per million, but above 150ppm we can no longer smell it: it paralyzes the olfactory nerves. It can reach 1000ppm in manure pits, enough to cause respiratory paralysis and suffocation. Without the odor to warn them, people collapse and die, as do those who try to rescue them. In one case, a farmer went into a manure pit to unclog a pipe. When he collapsed, a worker tried to rescue him, the farmer’s mother hurried down the ladder to help both of them, and her son died trying to help her: a chain of death involving 4 people. And a team of pathologists working in a poorly ventilated autopsy room were nearly overcome by fumes from the victims’ bodies.
We learn about the virtues of spit, how to survive being swallowed alive, why some animals would die if they didn’t eat their own feces, how competitive eaters train, the mechanics of transporting contraband in swallowed packets or by rectal insertion, flatulence research (one curious finding: men fart more, but women’s farts smell worse), why the stomach doesn’t digest itself (actually, it does, but the stomach lining constantly renews itself), why increasing fiber in the diet might be bad for you, the role of chronic constipation and megacolon in Elvis’ death, and how surgeons attempted to cure diarrhea by excising a section of bowel and re-installing it backwards to achieve reverse peristalsis (this didn’t work).
If you read this book, you will be amused and will learn many things, although some of them might not make for suitable dinner conversation.
This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine blog.
Harriet A. Hall, MD
Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.
10 Cool Things You&rsquoll Learn From Mary Roach&rsquos New Book
Ever wonder what happens to your gorgeous porcini risotto once it leaves the plate and slips down your esophagus? Mary Roach did, and the hilarious science writer chronicled her adventures down the alimentary canal in her new book, Gulp. Fair warning: Things don&rsquot end up as pretty as they start.
Gulp takes you deep inside your digestive system, out in the Arctic to explore the culture of eating organs, and inside a pet food lab to find out why dogs love the taste of rotting cadavers. Here&rsquos a preview of 10 cool things you&rsquoll learn from Gulp :
You know how laundry detergent is always packed with &ldquostain-fighting enzymes&rdquo? Those are actually digestive enzymes&mdashlike amylase, which breaks down starch, and lipase, which breaks down fat. So basically, you wash your clothes in a big human mouth? &ldquoIt makes perfect sense,&rdquo Roach tells us. &ldquoThe same foods you put in your mouth, you often drop on your clothes.&rdquo Not that spit works as an instant stain remover, Roach found. For that, even saliva experts turn to Tide stain pens.
Of all the weird things Mary Roach ate in Gulp&mdashthe beginnings of cat food, rancid olive oil&mdashher favorite was muktuk. That&rsquos the skin of a narwhal, an Arctic whale with a unicorn-esque tusk. The dish is an Inuit staple. &ldquoA lot of other cultures see that organ meats are not only tasty, but also really nutritious,&rdquo she says. &ldquoNarwhal is kind of nutty. It&rsquos got a pleasingly rubbery texture&mdashwell, not rubbery, that sounds bad&mdashbut it&rsquos kind of similar to eating snail.&rdquo Plus, it&rsquos packed with vitamin A!
Ever wonder what the inside of a living cow feels like? Mary Roach did, so she traveled to the University of California at Davis to explore the largest of a cow&rsquos four stomachs, called the rumen. Unlike humans, whose tummies are better at disinfecting food than holding large amounts of it, cows graze all day on low-nutrition grass and ground detritus. They need such big stomachs to sort out the nutrients.
&ldquoIt&rsquos hot and a little scary because the contractions of the rumen are really powerful,&rdquo Roach says. With the storage space of a 30-gallon trashcan, the cavity is &ldquolike a giant fermenter-composter-mixing vat I was afraid I&rsquod break a finger. I guess awe was what I felt. It&rsquos kind of a privilege&mdasha debt of thanks to the cow, who seemed to not even notice.&rdquo
Fad diets just don&rsquot seem to quit. One of mankind&rsquos particularly weird quick fixes dates back to the early 1900s with Horace Fletcher&rsquos &ldquoFletcherizing.&rdquo That&rsquos a fancy name for extreme chewing Fletcherizing prescribed 722 chews for half an onion in order to extract the most nutrients.
Roach, who thoroughly debunks the &ldquochewing diet&rdquo in her book, says that there are still believers. Another stubborn dietary fad? Colonics. She doesn&rsquot buy &ldquothe belief that your shit is going to poison you, instead of understanding that your digestive system is a highly evolved and efficient system.&rdquo
Thanks to a bunch of built-in reflexes, eating yourself to death is nearly impossible, Roach found. But how much do you have to eat, theoretically? Algot Key-Åberg, a late professor of medicine at a Swedish university, intended to find out by pouring water into the mouths of 30 corpses until they exploded.
Writes Roach: &ldquoKey-Åberg found that if the stomach&rsquos emergency venting and emptying systems are out of commission&mdashbecause the person is in a narcotic stupor, say, or dead&mdashthe organ will typically rupture at three to four liters, around a gallon. If you pour slowly, with less force, it may hold out for six or seven liters.&rdquo
Of the few known instances of death by food, one Liverpool woman&rsquos last meal was particularly epic. Roach explains: &ldquoTwo pounds of kidneys, one and a third pounds of liver, a half pound of steak, two eggs, a pound of cheese, a half pound of mushrooms, two pounds of carrots, a head of cauliflower, two large slices of bread, ten peaches, four pears, two apples, four bananas, two pounds each of plums and grapes, and two glasses of milk. Nineteen pounds of food.&rdquo
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal PDF Details
|Original Title:||Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal|
|Number Of Pages:||348 pages|
|First Published in:||January 4th 2013|
|Latest Edition:||April 1st 2013|
|Awards:||Royal Society Science Book Prize Nominee (2014), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Nonfiction (2013)|
|Generes:||Non Fiction, Science, Humor, Audiobook, Food And Drink, Food, Health, Science, Biology, Medical, Health, Medicine, Adult,|
|Formats:||audible mp3, ePUB(Android), kindle, and audiobook.|
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Q&A: Mary Roach, Author of Gulp
Mary Roach's book, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, is available in paperback now. We talked to the author about making gross topics palatable to readers, putting yourself out there for science, and the parts of the alimentary canal that just aren't that interesting.
Your books are all about topics people probably didn't realize they wanted to know about until they start reading. How do you come up with your ideas? What drew you to the alimentary canal?
Well, I like writing books, and the thing that trips me up is that I’m not very—it's not like I have a list of ideas to work through as the years unfold. I do one book and then I go, “Oh God, I don’t have any more ideas, what am I going to do?” I kind of come at it inside out. I’ll have two or three chunks of material that didn’t get put into a book or a story, and then I’ll go, “Oh, if I took all two or three of these, what would be the umbrella over all of those that might be…” I’ll have some specifics and then put a book around them, which I don’t recommend to anybody. It’s kind of a stupid way to come up with books.
In this case, I had done this story on flatulence—it was like 1989 or something—and I had all this great material. It was one of those [stories] like, “We just want to tell readers how not to be flatulent.” I’m like, “First of all, people like to fart. [Laughs.] So I don’t want to tell people how not to.” It was a service kind of piece, so I couldn’t really use the Mylar pantaloons and I couldn’t use the fabulous history of flatulence research, or any other wonderful moments at Beano, where I had gone to report that story. And I had a few other miscellaneous, digestive tract-related, fabulous chunks of material. And at a certain point I went, “Oh, duh! The alimentary canal. It’s like a Mary Roach travel book. You just start at one end and go out the other.”
I don’t know why it took me so long to think of the idea. I would go to book talks and people would go, “You should do a book about sh*t,” and I’d go, “Hmm … I see where you’re coming from, but I think that’s a little specific and embarrassing.” At a certain point, I realized that I could incorporate some elements of that, but the mouth is also an interesting place too, and the stomach. There were just so many interesting places you could go.
Because I’m doing it, I don’t really feel any compulsion to be thorough. Like, the liver? Boring. You’re out of here. Some people are like, “Did you know you forgot the liver?” I’m like, “Yeah.” I couldn’t find an interesting liver chapter setting. What would make the liver fun and exciting? Nothing makes the liver fun and exciting. The small intestine got shafted too. It’s in there—I explain it here and there—but it didn’t get its own chapter because you know what? It’s not that fun. It’s the boring relative that nobody really wants to sit next to.
How do you approach your research? You go a lot of places, you talk to a lot of people, you cite a lot of papers I can’t even wrap my head around organizing it into a book.
I approach it this way: For every stop along the alimentary canal, I wanted to have a scene, a setting, person, dialogue, something going on, whether it was historical or current, somewhere I would travel. So I spent a lot of time contacting strangers, like the fecal transplant guy, and going, “Alright, this is going to sound weird, but can I come out and be there when you put the stuff in the blender and when you do the actual transplant? Is that OK?” And he’s like, “Yeah, sure. Whatever turns you on.”
So a lot of it’s contacting people and saying, “What’s going to be happening in your lab in the next few years?” I’m very straightforward with them. I say, “I need a setting and scene and things going on, and you’re going to be a character in this chapter, so let me know: What have you got cooking?”
I spend a lot of time early on doing that, trying to find that kind of narrative structure for each chapter, which comes down to really whose lab we’re going to visit. Or not always a lab—sometimes it’s Avenal State Prison. I called up the public affairs guy at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and said, “You know what, I’m doing this book I’ve got this rectum chapter and I know you guys have some issues with rectal smuggling…” I thought the guy would hang up, but he went, “Oh yeah, we have some real problems with cellphone hooping. Sure, you can come down to Avenal. We’ll set up some interviews.” [Laughs.] I’m like, “Really? Great! I’m there.”
It is definitely surprising that they gave you that kind of access.
I know. I really didn’t expect that. I thought, if anything, they’d say, “Oh, you can talk to one of the guards who does the cavity searches.” But they were like, “Here’s a guy who’s really good at this. Talk to him about his rectum.” I’m like, “OK. That sounds great.” So it’s really a lot of sending out emails to people you’ve never met and hoping that they’ll look kindly upon you and let you eat up their time.
Do you find that most of the time people are very excited to talk about their research that they’re doing, or are there some people who are just not interested?
Usually, people are delighted to have the opportunity to talk to somebody who’s interested. Every now and then I’ll get somebody who’s a little bit uncomfortable with how they might be portrayed, like whether I’ll take it seriously enough. But that’s very unusual. Oftentimes it’s people who have read my books, and amazingly enough, they agree to be in them—like, “Yeah, I’ve read such-and-such. Sure, you can come down.” And they’re even more helpful if they’re familiar with the books, which I really didn’t see coming. Early on in my career, I thought that with each successive book that it would get harder and harder, because people would say, “I’m not so sure.”
It’s a leap of faith. They have to trust me, and there’s no reason to. They’ve got to trust that [I'm] going to get something right, that the way that they’re portrayed isn't going to affect their ability to get funding in the future. That was an issue with some of the NASA contractors [she talked to for her last book, Packing for Mars]. They were happy to talk, but they were concerned that they might not get work from NASA in the future—that it would affect their ability to work with NASA, because they didn’t really know how the work would be portrayed. It’s always very generous of people to agree.
Most people are really good sports. They appreciate it. I showed the cadaver chapter in Packing for Mars to the researcher that was one thing he wanted. He initially read it, and he said, “Well, the first time I read it, I thought, ‘I’d better get my C.V. together.’” And then he said, “And then I read it another time with my researcher goggles on, and I was like, ‘You know, this is fine. There’s one line I’d really like you to take out, but that’s it.’” So yeah, people are good sports.
At this point, you’ve been doing this for a while, so do you have a sense of what will make for a good place to visit? Has there ever been a time where you’ve gone to see something and it just has been the most boring thing ever?
Oh, sure. Often, I will hear about something and go, “Oh, this sounds like it’d be really cool! I’m going to go there!” And then a couple of times—it’s happened more with magazine features where I’ve showed up and it’s just really dull. A lot of the time it’s my fault for being over-optimistic. There was a story once about the ergonomics of airplane seats, and there’s a lab where they have people test airplane seats, and I thought, “Wow, that sounds really interesting and bizarre I’ll go be a subject.” Well, it just means you’re sitting on your ass in a plane seat for eight hours. And I did it anyway, but it was kind of a challenge to make that interesting.
So that will happen every now and then what I’ll do is just end up having very little material to work with. There’s always five or ten minutes somewhere in the course of those two days that make a scene that’s interesting. It’s a salvage job, sometimes. It’s rare that I will completely drop the chapter, although that has happened—I just think, “You know, this doesn’t make the cut.”
When you’re dealing with the stuff you touch on in Gulp—which is definitely gross—do you ever worry about alienating readers? How do you make it accessible?
I rely on my editor. If I’ve really gone too far—she has a more delicate sensibility than me, so I don’t trouble myself with it. Because I’m not a good judge of it I’ll throw anything in. But if she trips over it, then I really have to look at it and say, “She’s probably right. This is probably a little too much.” So she’s kind of my eyes and ears of more civilized society. I just put it in there and she surprises me with how rarely that actually happens.
Was there anything in Gulp that she suggested that you cut?
You know, it’s funny—when I turned in the manuscript, I thought all the problems would be with the second part, the below-the-waist half of the book. She didn’t have a single problem with that. She wanted some different things up front, in the first half. Editors are more concerned with the first chapters of a book that’s what everyone reads first in the bookstore or in the online sample. I anticipated some hesitation with the flatulence chapters, for example, or hooping, but no, nothing. She didn’t take anything out. [And usually,] it’s more often a line where she doesn’t get the humor—she doesn’t think it works, and she’ll flag it. It’s not usually “This is too disgusting.”
When you buy my books, you kind of know what you’re in for. It’s kind of self-selecting. If you have a delicate sensibility and you’re easily grossed out, you probably will never read one of my books.
When the book was released, you took it out on tour. What kinds of things were people asking you about?
Well, you get a fair amount of personal medical questions that you’re not qualified to answer. But the rest were better than I had anticipated. I thought we were going to get—particularly, with call-in radio—a lot of, like, “I have been diagnosed with mucoid plaque and I was wondering what the latest treatment is. What do you recommend?” That kind of thing. I’m not an M.D. So I did get a little of that, but not as much as I’d feared. I thought I’d get a lot of people asking about gluten and lactose intolerance and those kind of conditions that have become so talked-about in our culture, but people kind of got that it wasn’t a health book, that it wasn’t a personal health book. They’d get that, so there weren’t as many as I thought there would be.
A lot of people just generally approached it in the spirit in which it was written, and they had wonderful questions. One guy talked about how hot foods—you know, you burn out the pain receptors [in your mouth] and you develop this tolerance from hot peppers. He said, “Why don’t you develop a tolerance on the other end?” And I’m like, “That is the best question ever.” [Laughs.] People come up with stuff like that, which I always enjoy, though I don’t always have an answer.
Does it ever make you want to go back and add an addendum?
Yes, absolutely. And also people raise their hands and go, “Oh, my uncle was the gastroenterologist for Fidel Castro.” I mean, people come up with these amazing stories, and I'm like, “Where were you two years ago?” What can you do?
I was particularly interested in the section about how pet food is made. I have a very finicky cat, and I had no idea that so much went into making food taste good for him. Why did you decide to include how pet food is made, even though we're not eating it?
I thought it would be interesting to do a human taste panel. I did have that for the wine chapter, but that was more the nose, and I thought the nose was the more interesting element there. I wanted to do maybe a texture panel, but somehow this is one of those cases where the reality of it would seem to be less promising than how I thought it would be. At some point, somebody told me about pet food taste panels, and I was like, “Really?” Because who would guess that, in fact, there are animal taste panels? It makes sense that there are, and [the testers are] occasionally human beings. That was such a surprise, and it just seemed much more entertaining and fun. I was on a taste panel at NASA for Packing for Mars, and that’s an example of where I was a taster for some breakfast item, and it was so boring. The person I was interviewing—well, it didn’t sing. I left it out of the book. So I had a sense that this taste panel thing threatened to be dull, even though it seems like it should be kind of fun. So the pet food was just a way to make it a little fresher and more surprising.
So I wanted to talk a little bit about your footnotes. In a lot of books, I’ll skip them because they’re kind of boring. But your footnotes are always very funny. Sometimes they deal with what you're talking about, sometimes they don't, and sometimes they're just a joke you're making. Is that stuff that was going to go in the text but got cut, or are you writing those and then putting them in as you go along?
It’s material that doesn’t really fit the narrative, but I can’t bear to leave out. So it’s just me being indulgent. If I’ll have something that I have in a folder and I can’t find a way to fit it in that isn’t distracting or annoying for the reader, I’ll put it in a footnote. Some chapters have a lot of them some don’t. Some books have a lot, some more of them. I’m tending on doing fewer of them because they don’t work so well with e-Books. They take people off the page to another part—a dedicated page—and then they have to go back, is how it’s been working, and people don’t like it. So I’m doing fewer of them with the next book.
It also just goes book-by-book. Like, Bonk has three times as many as Stiff, or Spook. Gulp has quite a few. Packing for Mars has quite a few. It kind of depends on the material. Sometimes there’s a bunch of footnote-worthy stuff and other times there’s not.
Did you have a favorite footnote from Gulp?
I did enjoy the International Hairball Awareness Day footnote because, in fact, the book came out right around that time, and people did write to me saying, “Hey, I’m reading the National Hairball Awareness Day footnote on National Hairball Awareness Day!” Eight or nine people wrote to me, which was very fun. So that one was particularly fabulous.
Also, there was one that maybe 30 percent of people got, and this was something my editor wanted to take out, and I left it in. Anyway, there was a flatulence patient whose name was Flatus Backwards. And I wrote, “Get it?” backwards, as the footnote. And nobody got it. People were like, “Excuse me, there’s some weird typographical problem with one of your footnotes that you seemed to have missed.” Like, nope, you missed it. Go back and reread it. My editor was like, “I showed this to my assistant and the publicist and we didn’t get it.” And then my agent’s like, “No, leave it in.” [Laughs.] That one was entertaining.
Did writing Gulp change the way you think about food and eating? Are you into Fletcherizing now?
[Laughs.] No, I’m definitely not into it. Fletcherizing is gross. I tried it once. I tried to go until it’s all liquid, and it just creeps you out to be focusing so much on your chewing.
And at a certain point, don’t you have a reflex where your mouth wants you to swallow?
Yeah, in fact that’s what Fletcher wanted you to go towards. He wanted you to involuntarily swallow [because] you just have to swallow it.
Mine seems to happen way before 700 chews.
Yeah, I think it was a particularly tough shallot he was chewing. I don’t know where he got his shallots, but that was a lot of chews.
Because of the nose chapter, I use my nose more, particularly with any kind of wine or gin or anything with a lot of those volatile vapors coming off of it. It’s very cool that you smell on the exhale as well as the inhale—that whenever you exhale, you’re smelling. It’s not just something you do on the inhale. I love when I come upon those very basic things that you go through your life not knowing. So, I make use of that more. But other than that, I didn’t change my diet or anything.
You talked to so many people for Gulp. Who was your favorite?
I really enjoyed Erika Silletti, the beautiful Italian saliva expert, partly because she was beautiful and Italian, and you don’t really think of a saliva expert as being that person, for some reason. She just had this passion for this topic—and same with [chewing scientist Andries van der Bilt]. They had these elements of the human body that people completely take for granted or dismiss as gross they have lovely commitment and passion for it and they were just really lovely, fun, funny people. They were terrific.
And I loved the hooper. OK, he was a murderer. [Laughs.] But that was a long time ago, and he was a kid then. It’s very strange to say you really enjoyed the company of a murderer, but he was so good-natured about sitting down with a stranger and talking about what it’s like to hold large objects in your rectum for long periods of time. He was delightful, in his way.
You obviously feature a lot of historical figures, too. If you could sit down and have dinner with one of them, who would it be? And what would you be eating?
Just for the entertainment value, it would have to be Horace Fletcher. Somebody described [it]. I think it was William Forbes, in his journals. He went for "a meal with Horace Fletcher, well-chewed." I think it would be very entertaining. It would have to be something that requires a lot of chewing, because I would like to witness this strange phenomenon. There’s not film footage, that I’m aware of, of people Fletcherizing. We wouldn’t be having soup.
In the process of writing your books, you sometimes put yourself out there and become a subject of research yourself: In Gulp, you got a colonoscopy. What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve done in the process of researching a story? Is there anything you wouldn’t repeat?
Well, I wouldn’t repeat the ultrasound sex experience [from Bonk], just because I felt so bad for my husband. The burden of performance was on him. And this was not, as people say, an MRI, but it was an ultrasound, which was even more awkward because the guy is right there holding the wand to my belly. Yeah, that was extremely awkward. At the same time, as it was going on, I was taking notes. I knew that this was going to be so fun to write up. Having written it up, I see no reason to repeat that kind of experience.
That seems like, hands down, the most bizarre thing you’ve done for a story.
Yeah, it’s one of those things where I signed up immediately without really thinking it through. I knew that I needed to do it for the book, because I couldn’t talk to Virginia Johnson’s subjects—they’re all anonymous. And if you put an ad in the paper, you get people saying, “Oh yeah, I was one of her subjects, I’ll tell you what it was like.” And she was alive then [Ed. note: Johnson died in 2013], and she didn’t want to participate, so I just thought that in order to describe this experience—the experience of being a study subject in a sexual physiology study—it’s a very unusual thing to do. So doing it myself was kind of the only way to get at it.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned from writing Gulp?
There were lots of little surprises along the way, like the thing about smelling when you exhale. And that’s, incidentally, why people can smell their own breath—because every time you exhale, you’re smelling it. I was thinking it’s sort of because you exhale, and then that breath is in front of your nose, and you inhale it. But it’s because every time you exhale, you’re smelling it.
I guess, also, the reluctance or the slowness with which fecal transplants have caught on, because they’re so effective, so cheap, so safe. That’s a rare thing in medicine. And the fact that it’s, all along, been kind of hobbled by people's discomfort with it. It’s also because there’s no corporate entity pushing it through, paying for the trials. That’s also why. But I guess that was surprising.
What do you hope people take away from reading the book?
A little bit of respect for their innards, I guess, or just a little more awareness of what’s going on in there, and that it’s pretty cool, fascinating. Don’t take your guts for granted.
I mean, just reading about Elvis’s megacolon made me think, “Thank god I have a regular colon!”
Yeah, people don’t appreciate their intestines until something goes wrong. But I always hope that people gain a little appreciation for their guts.
When you’re not writing and researching, what kind of things are you reading? Have you read anything really good in the past eight months that you would really recommend to people?
I am right now reading a book by this author I just discovered named Dave Madden, who wrote this book called The Authentic Animal, which is about taxidermy. He’s such a gifted creative nonfiction author. He’s very young. He’s not very well-known, and he just blows me away. He’s so good. So I’m reading that, and I’m also reading a novel by Rabih Alameddine called An Unnecessary Woman, which is also really, really good. Over the past year or so, the other book I really loved was Jon Mooallem, another creative nonfiction writer who’s just staggeringly good. He wrote a book called Wild Ones.
From Ballistic Gelatin to Mummy Confection: The Grossest Recipes of Mary Roach
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“I have a semen recipe!” Mary Roach shouts giddily at the beginning of our interview. If, at any point in her life, the author might have felt a tinge of embarrassment at uttering such a phrase, it’s long since been exorcised by her work. The common theme amongst Roach’s diverse bibliography of best-selling nonfiction science books is the human body, and over the course of her writing career, it’s served as the star of stories about cadavers, poltergeist, space travel and sex.
Thankfully for her loyal reader base, Roach thrives on her (sometimes gross) discoveries, many of which, oddly enough, have arrived in the form of recipes. It’s a theme the author has embraced to the point of (much to her publisher’s chagrin) pitching a cookbook. And while such a collection, sadly, may well never see the light of day, Roach was more than happy to share some of her favorites with us to celebrate the release of her digestive love story, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.
__Recipe: Ballistic Gelatin __
It’s not the patriotically colored Jell-O that goes untouched on Fourth of July picnic tables, but at its core, ballistic gelatin isn't really all that far off. The foundation is Knox Gelatin, a yellowish-brown foodstuff that dates back to the last decade of the 19th century. “When I was a kid,” the author explains, with the slightest tinge of nostalgia, “they used to say if you ate it, it would make your fingernails stronger.” Turns out the ole timey dessert food is also a pretty solid pig carcass surrogate.
Ballistic gelatin is used as a humane (and decidedly less morose) stand-in for swine bodies, themselves a stand-in for human cadavers, used to test the effects of bullets on flesh in laboratory settings -- you’ve almost certainly seen it slowed down to a crawl on some Discovery Channel show. Prepared correctly, ballistic gelatin is far firmer than anything you’ve brought to a dinner party, approximating the consistency of human tissue. It’s also far more transparent than your average pig carcass, so you can see precisely what the bullet is doing in there.
“[It’s utilized by] the Justice Department, the military -- people who are interested in developing weaponry,” explains Roach, who saw the stuff firsthand on a visit to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee while writing Stiff. “If you want a bullet that doesn’t go all the way through, if you want something that stays in the thing that you hit, rather than hitting the brick wall and ricocheting back at you, you want to design a bullet that releases all of its energy at once, causes a lot of damage to the perpetrator and doesn’t bounce back and hit the law enforcement officer.” Saving cops and making the world a little safer for pig carcasses everywhere: all in a day’s work for an unflavored turn-of-the-century dessert food.
In spirit, this stuff’s not all too dissimilar from the slimey stuff in tubs you talked your parent into buying you after Ghostbusters hit theaters. Thankfully, due in no small part to breakthroughs in government regulation, the contents of this one were long ago deemed unfit for mass production. “Biologically-moistened cheesecloth,” is how Roach describes early 20th state of the art paranormal fakery.
“That can be moistened with saliva and stomach acid or moistened with vaginal secretions, depending on where the ectoplasm is coming from. The cheese cloth can be compressed into a small roll, but if you’re a talented regurgitator, you can swallow it and pull it out.”
It’s quite simple, really. If you wanted to fool, say, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the famed paranormal enthusiast, it’s as easy as moistening a bit of cheesecloth with your most readily available biological fluid. So, why trick someone into believing that you can communicate with the dead? Financial gain? Not so much, says Roach. Missionary work. “They were trying to recruit people into the spiritual movement. It’s a religion that proved spirit energy, whether it was moving tables, making noises or producing this glob they called ectoplasm. Rather than just asking people to take it on faith, they produced evidence. It was the hottest ticket in town. It was a very high drama, spectator-friendly religion.”
But surely none of the intelligencia -- aside from the guy who created literature’s most famous detective -- fell for such a ploy, right? “It was taken so seriously that Scientific American and the Sorbonne University in Paris did studies,” says Roach. “They would do samples. Really, people bought this. And they would have Nobel Laureates come in. It took magicians to figure out what they were doing.” Which, it turns out, goes a long ways toward explaining why Houdini and Conan Doyle’s BFF status was downgraded to a bitter rivalry over the course of the two men’s live. Turns out biologically-moistened cheesecloth isn’t the great uniter after all.
Side note: Should your local supermarket be all out of cheesecloth, a bit of well-placed sheep entrails will do in a pinch.
__Recipe: Human Fecal Simulant __
Book: Packing for Mars
If there’s a takeaway from Roach’s 2010 book, Packing for Mars, it’s the fact that, for all the majestic wonder of space, actually getting there is a rather disgusting pursuit. After all, say what you will about mankind’s inherent need to explore the unknown, the human body wasn’t really built for the pressures that come with slipping the surly bonds of Earth. And once you have, there are all manner of new concerns to contend with -- certain things we’ve learned to take for granted on Earth just don’t translate. Things like, you know, toilets.
￼“They needed to make fake poop to test the zero gravity toilet,” Roach begins. “It’s a zero gravity toilet, so you have to test it in zero gravity. The way you do that is you haul the whole thing to Ellington Field, where they do the parabolic zero gravity flights.” That’s the one where the old vomit comet flies to a height of around 35,000 feet, only the plummet back down, created the sensation of zero gravity for the passengers inside of its padded confine. The part you signed up for lasts for all of, say, 20 seconds. Testing a toilet in such a scenario requires a voraciously regular live test subject with the sort of bowels you can set a watch to. For all the extensive bodily training required before strapping on a spacesuit, the world’s number one space program, sadly, has made something of an oversight when it comes to going number two.
“This guy has 20 seconds to produce,” Roach adds with some intensity. “He couldn’t do it. It’s kind of a high stress, performance anxiety sort of situation, and also people have their daily biological schedules. If it was the afternoon, what can you do?”
The solution was clear: follow in the pioneering footsteps of the diaper industry by manufacturing a “high fidelity fecal simulant. “They were extremely thorough,” Roach tells me. “I was very impressed. This was not the pumpkin pie filling or brownie mix or straight refried beans that you see in the diaper industry.” And to this day, Huggies has yet to complete a manned space mission to the moon. Coincidence?
__Recipe: Mellified Man __
Also known by the delightful name “Human Mummy Confection,” this one deserves a bit of a disclaimer. Roach happened upon a description of Mellified Man in that classic of Ming Dynasty pharmacology, Li Shizhen’s Bencao Gangmu. “He said, ‘I only have one source,’ ” says Roach. “Even he was a little dubious -- and given the stuff that he put in his book, if it makes him wonder. ” Shizhen describes the phenomenon as late in life altruistic phenomenon -- a sort of early forerunner to organ donation in which the elder would offer up their bodies to future generations.
“Old men would volunteer to make themselves medicine,” Roach explains. “They would spend the last couple of months of their life eating nothing but honey. And then, after they died, they’d be put in their coffin and sealed and would turn into this sweet-tasting but vile glop known as Mellified Man.” That sort of delicious miracle of ancient medicine doesn’t occur over night. The curing process would take roughly 100 years, and when the lid lifts on that sickly sweet coffin a century later, you’ve got a cure for injured limbs, gathered by scraping glop off a cadaver. “They’re like the human version of baklava,” says Roach.
__Recipe: Simulated Semen __
For all of the magical wonder it brings to our lives, sometimes science just takes all the romance out of things. It’s hard to imagine a more literal example of this phenomenon than the creation of simulated semen. Of course, Mary Roach lives for such things, and I thank the inbox gods that an enthusiastic email from the author entitled “Better Semen Recipe” makes it past my often overzealous spam filter. The better of the two revolves around flour, as opposed to corn starch -- though the latter does boast the admittedly terrific tagline “yield: one ejaculate.” Of course, if you’re entertaining, you can always make more. “Times however many,” laughs Roach. “You can get out your calculator, whip up a big batch.”
The better recipes comes from an experiment testing a displacement theory involving the male genitalia, an experiment carried out with anatomical aides purchased at that beloved scientific resource California Exotic Novelties. Decades earlier, a separate concoction was created in an attempt to debunk the centuries-old theory of “up-suck.”
Says Roach, “There was a theory that when a woman was having an orgasm that the contractions in the uterus would suck up the semen, thereby delivering it more quickly to the egg and increasing the odds of conception.” The scientists, William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson put together an experiment involving artificial semen, radioactive dye, an X-Ray and real women.
So, why pair fake seed with the real ladies? “Semen tends to coagulate at a certain point, and the viscosity tends to change,” explains Roach. “So, I think they were using something that wasn’t going to have that biological feature, something that they didn’t have to hurry with. Also, I think they wanted something that was a uniform density. It’s science. They wanted it to be uniform. They didn’t want one guy’s water jizz one day and then butterscotch pudding the next day.”
Book Review: ‘Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal’ by Mary Roach
I’d not thought much about enemas – let alone their capacity to deliver nutrients to the body in a round-about manner – that is, until I reached the fifteenth chapter of Gulp, by Mary Roach.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal explores the processes of eating, digestion and elimination from every angle imaginable. In her trademark humour and informative style, Roach approaches the alimentary canal in the same way that she does any topic of scientific inquiry: with an unquenchable curiosity and a strong stomach. Covering topics such as the role of olfaction (smell) in taste and salivation the number of ways in which humans chew their food (there are four) the plausibility of the ‘Jonah and the whale’ scenario (on the basis of the query: can one survive being swallowed alive?) whether or not human flatus can be lethal and megacolons as museum artifacts, Roach leaves the reader satisfied and, at times, a bit queasy.
Roach, a science journalist from New Hampshire, began her writing career in San Francisco as a copy editor and when working in PR for the San Francisco Zoological Society. Her press releases on wart-removal surgery for elephants and other Animal Planet-esque topics launched her career in science journalism and she later published a number of humour pieces and first-person essays in publications such as GQ, Vogue, the New York Times Magazine and National Geographic.
Though her seven books (of which Gulp is the sixth), fall within the non-fiction science genre (a few of her other books include Stiff, Spook, Bonk and Grunt, and address cadavers, the afterlife, human sexuality and military science, respectively), Roach herself does not have a background or a degree in the natural sciences. As a result, Roach begins each book at the knowledge-level of the novice, making her the perfect investigator on behalf of the layman reader.
King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour is the pancake of my eye
As I flipped pancakes on a recent Saturday morning, I was thinking about how much more baking I’ve been doing recently (skip the chatter, and go straight to the recipe). For instance, besides the pancakes, the day before, I made whole wheat walnut-raisin bread, and that night, the DH was going to be making pizzas, one with pepperoni and one with sausage and green bell peppers. Yeah, yeah, I know, pancakes aren’t baked the actual connection is the main ingredient, flour (but I do keep the pancakes warm in the oven, wink), and when I think flour, I think baking.
A couple of different things led to this state of affairs. It all started last summer, when a friend shared a lemon muffin with me that she made with King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour (thanks, Michele!). We could’ve been in an ad, all exclamatory remarks: “You’ve gotta try this!” “This is made with whole wheat flour? No way! It’s so light, and the color is like regular flour!” Then she gave me a bag with a couple of cups in it, and I started playing with it. I began substituting the white whole wheat flour in muffins, cookies, and brownies, starting with just a quarter of what the recipe called for, then a third, and now, depending on the recipe, half or all the flour. Everyone—the family, my adult friends, the kids’ friends—continued to ask for my baked goodies (better than complements, I think), so it just encouraged me to try it in more recipes.
Eventually, I ran through the recipes I usually make and that I wanted to substitute in white whole wheat flour, but I was on a roll. And when my friend Julie asked me what she could do with her new stand-mixer besides bake sweet treats, I thought of bread. Now, I used to bake bread here and there—mostly things like challah and standard 1½ lb. loaves for sandwiches—before I had the kids, but bread making mostly fell by the wayside as I focused on my two bundles of joy. The big exception is pizza, which the DH or I still make from scratch, including the dough. But I love (who doesn’t?) that heady, yeasty perfume and slight crunch of cutting open a fresh-baked loaf. I’m lucky that there are many great bakeries in the Bay Area, and I occasionally buy beautiful breads from Semifreddi’s, my favorite local bakery. Taking a page from my book Twice As Nice, I’ve taken to stashing a few of their wheat panini in the freezer to use on the fly. But the local bakeries don’t stock a large variety of whole wheat loaves, so I started keeping an eye out for recipes for whole wheat bread, especially bread which I can then freeze and then later, defrost just as much as I need. Goody! More baking! I’ve continued experimenting with both white whole wheat and regular whole wheat flours, and I’m sure that I will be sharing some recipes in the future.
Here’s what I learned: substituting some or all the the regular white unbleached flour with King Arthur White Whole Wheat in everyday recipes works well. If it’s not at your local grocery store, you can get it directly from King Arthur’s website or from Amazon. Since the nutrition profile of white whole wheat flour is the same as regular whole wheat, it’s a great way to bump up the healthfulness and heartiness of everyday baking (including pancakes and waffles!). The white whole wheat flour, milled from white spring wheat rather than traditional red wheat (according to the King Arthur website), is heavier than regular white flour, so it’s very important to use proper measuring technique to avoid a dense or dry end result: loosen up the flour by stirring it around inside its container (I suppose sifting the white whole wheat flour before measuring it would be the foodie thing to do, but frankly, I’m too lazy for everyday baking), then scoop the flour into your measuring cup. Finally, use a butter knife to scrape off the excess—never tamp it down! For every ½ cup of regular flour, substitute ½ cup minus 1 tablespoon white whole wheat. The white whole wheat does add a “tan” and a subtle nutty flavor to the dishes, which I think actually makes things like pancakes taste better. But I wouldn’t substitute it in cakes, pie or tart crusts, and other delicate baked goods after all, treats are treats are treats. Leave ‘em alone, I say. There’s plenty of other ways to make our everyday cooking healthier an easy way is to start with these pancakes with ½ cup, 1 cup, or all white whole wheat flour!
This is my pancake recipe I’ve used it for years, but now I usually make it with 1 cup white whole wheat flour. I even make it with all white whole wheat, which the DD prefers. It’s a good recipe to experiment with, because you can easily substitute ½ cup, 1 cup or all the regular flour for white whole wheat. Just remember to use proper measuring technique, and subtract 1 tablespoon for every ½ cup!
- 1½ cups flour
- 1½ tablespoons sugar
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup lowfat buttermilk
- ½ cup skim or lowfat milk
- 3 large eggs
- 1½ tablespoon canola oil, plus more for greasing pans
- 1½ teaspoon vanilla
Heat a serving plate in 150°F oven. Lightly grease a cast-iron double burner griddle pan with a little vegetable oil, and heat over low flame. If not using a cast-iron pan, after the pancake batter is ready, heat your preferred pan, greased a little vegetable oil, over medium-low heat until hot but not smoking.
Place all the dry ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk together make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk just until smooth. Let the batter rest for a minute.
Fill a ¼-cup measuring cup about ¾ full for each pancake (about 3 tablespoons batter). Cook the first side until bubbles are forming on top, the edges begin to set, and the bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook another minute. Grease the pan again as needed. Move the cooked pancakes onto the serving plate, keeping them warm in the oven until ready to serve.
The irresistible, ever-curious, and always best-selling Mary Roach returns with a new adventure to the invisible realm we carry around inside.
“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp 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 words 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? In Gulp we meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of—or has the courage to ask. We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal. With Roach at our side, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbis and terrorists—who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts.
Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies.
About the Author
There is much to enjoy about Mary Roach—her infectious aw for quirky science and its nerdy adherents, her one-liners. She is beloved, and justifiably so.
&mdash Jon Ronson - New York Times Book Review
As engrossing as it is gross.
&mdash Entertainment Weekly
Far and away her funniest and most sparkling book, bringing Ms. Roach’s love of weird science to material that could not have more everyday relevance. . . . Never has Ms. Roach’s affinity for the comedic and bizarre been put to better use. . . . “Gulp” is structured as a vastly entertaining pilgrimage down the digestive tract, with Ms. Roach as the wittiest, most valuable tour guide imaginable.
&mdash Janet Maslin - New York Times
A delicious read and, dare I say it, a total gas.
&mdash Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe
With the same eager curiosity that she previously brought to the subjects of cadavers, space, and sex, the author explores the digestive system, from mouth to colon.
&mdash New Yorker
[A] merry foray into the digestive sciences….Inexorably draws the reader along with peristaltic waves of history and vividly described science.
&mdash Brian Switek - Wall Street Journal
You’ll come away from this well-researched book with enough weird digestive trivia to make you the most interesting guest at a certain kind of cocktail party…Go ahead and put this one in your carry-on. You won’t regret it.
&mdash Amy Stewart - Washington Post
A witty, woving romp of a book… Roach…is a thoroughly unflappable, utterly intrepid investigator of the icky.
&mdash Chloe Schama - Smithsonian
Gulp is about revelling in the extraordinary complexities and magnificence of human digestion.
Relentlessly fun to read.
&mdash Bee Wilson - The New Republic
Never before has the process of eating been so very interesting…. After digesting her book, you can’t help but think about what that really means.
&mdash Micki Myers - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One of my top criteria for pronouncing a book worthwhile is the number of times you snort helplessly with laughter and say, “Wow! Did you know that . ” before your long-suffering spouse throws a book at you from across the room. My personal spouse says that, in this department, “Gulp” takes the cake.
&mdash Adam Woog - Seattle Times
Letting this brilliantly mischievous writer, for whom no pun is ouch and no cow sacred, dip her pen into the font of all potty humor must have seemed even riskier than her previous excursions into corpses (Stiff), the afterlife (Spook), sex (Bonk) and outer space (Packing for Mars). But dip she did—at one point she put her whole arm into a cow’s belly—and came up with another quirkily informative pop-science entertainment in Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.
Once again Roach boldly goes where no author has gone before, into the sciences of the taboo, the macabre, the icky, and the just plain weird. And she conveys it all with a perfect touch: warm, lucid, wry, sharing the unavoidable amusement without ever resorting to the cheap or the obvious. Yum!
&mdash Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature
As probing as an endoscopy, Gulp is quintessential Mary Roach: supremely wide-ranging, endlessly curious, always surprising, and, yes, gut-wrenchingly funny.
&mdash Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)