Food for thought

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

Only a lucky few have had their arms squeezed by the stomach of a cow. Mary Roach is one of them. She didn’t just put her hands “up” the cow; she went straight into its stomach through a fistula – a small hole – straight into its side.

This experiment is just one of the ways that Roach explores the ins-and-outs of our ins-and-outs. She also introduces us to some of the more colourful characters in digestive science, such as the “archbishop of roughage”, John Harvey Kellogg, who maintained that a “healthy colon” should empty itself four times a day, assisted by platefuls of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

Roach also looks at our reactions to our own bodies: how as consumers, we are happy to spend hours preparing our meals, but to speak of what happens to them once they start their trip down the alimentary canal, is “as much taboo as mating and death.”

Amongst all the humour, it is sometimes easy to forget that the alimentary research can help thousands, if not millions of people with diseases every day. So even if fecal transplants may not sound all that great, they have been able to restore people back to normal toilet habits.

With insatiable curiosity, Mary Roach has managed to take the reader on an incredible journey that she herself has taken; meeting the researchers, patients and animals that all helped in the discovery of how our gut, the mystery that lies between our mouths and … our butts, works. This is one book that will make you laugh out loud and cry out in disgust in one sentence.

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