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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Review: Gulp

Gulp is Mary Roach's book about your eating and digestive system. It's informative,  humorous, and more than a little gross. It taught me lots that I didn't know, though some of it is just what you might expect:
 The students, most of whom have several years’ experience in the industry, are asked to rank six wines, their labels hidden by—a nice touch here—brown paper bags. All are wines Wagner himself enjoys. At least one is under $10 and two are over $50. “Over the past eighteen years, every time,” he told me, “the least expensive wine averages the highest ranking, and the most expensive two finish at the bottom.” In 2011, a Gallo cabernet scored the highest average rating, and a Chateau Gruaud Larose (which retails from between $60 and $70) took the bottom slot. Unscrupulous vendors turn the situation to their advantage. In China, nouveau-riche status-seekers are spending small fortunes on counterfeit Bordeaux. A related scenario exists here vis-à-vis olive oil. “The United States is a dumping ground for bad olive oil,” Langstaff told me. It’s no secret among European manufacturers that Americans have no palate for olive oils. (Pg 20)
The section on organ meat is great:
 The top slot on the CSPI scorecard, with 172 points, is beef liver. Chicken liver and liver sausage took second and third place. A serving of liver provides half the RDA for vitamin C, three times the RDA for riboflavin, nine times the vitamin A in the average carrot, plus good amounts of vitamins B12, B6, and D, folic acid, and potassium. What’s the main ingredient in AFB’s dog-food palatants? “Liver,” says Moeller. “Mixed with some other viscera. The first part that a wild animal usually eats in its kill is the liver and stomach, the GI tract.” (pg 44)
 Organs are so vitamin-rich, and edible plants so scarce, that the former are classified, for purposes of Arctic health education, both as “meat” and as “fruits and vegetables.” 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.” Nartok shows me an example of Arctic “greens”: cutout number 13, Caribou Stomach Contents. (pg 51)
 There's even stuff about saliva that's interesting:
“If you dribble something on your shirt while you’re eating,” I asked Grime, “does it make sense to dab it with saliva? As a kind of natural laundry presoak?” “That’s an interesting thought.” Dr. Grime carries a Tide stain pen. He does not use his own spit. Art conservators do. “We make cotton swabs on bamboo sticks and moisten the swab in our mouths,” says Andrea Chevalier, senior paintings conservator with the Intermuseum Conservation Association. Saliva is especially helpful for fragile surfaces that solvents or water would dissolve. In 1990, a team of Portuguese conservators pitted saliva against four commonly used nonanatomical cleaning solutions. Based on its ability to clean but not damage water-gilded gold leaf and low-fired painted clay surfaces, saliva “was judged the ‘best’ cleaner.” Denatured saliva, stripped of its enzymatic powers, was also tested and proved inferior to straight spit. (pg 100)
The section on competitive eating is fascinating. But what really caught me is the composition of flatulence. Roberto used to claim that I fart helium. Well, Roach does one better. Apparently we all fart hydrogen!
Like a Manure Pit Display, the human colon is a scaled-down version of a biowaste storage tank. It is an anaerobic environment, meaning it provides the oxygen-free living that methane-producing bacteria need to thrive. It is packed with fermentable creature waste. As they do in manure pits, bacteria break down the waste in order to live off it, creating gaseous by-products in the process. Most voluminously, bacteria make hydrogen. Their gas becomes your gas. Up to 80 percent of flatus is hydrogen. About a third of us also harbor bacteria that produce methane—a key component in the “natural gas” supplied by utility companies. (At least two-thirds of us harbor a belief that methane producers’ farts burn blue, like the pilot light on a gas stove. Sadly, a YouTube search unearthed no evidence.)
The last part of the book is a little gross. It discusses smugglers who use their body cavities to smuggle goods, and includes descriptions of people who died of overdose by swallowing insufficiently protected packages of cocaine. There's a section on animals (e.g. rabbits) eating their own output to extract maximum nutrition from their meals (one pass through those digestive systems isn't enough).

The book is great reading and comes recommended!


Peter said...

"It’s no secret among European manufacturers that Americans have no palate for olive oils." This could also apply to the wine-ranking test. A French co-worker who was a wine expert (he had all the vintage years memorized) on a 2-year assignment in Silicon Valley often found excellent French wines in the bargain bin, much cheaper than in France; his theory was that Americans liked a less complex flavor and consequently wouldn't buy the wine when it was at its best.

Peter said...

"Our results indicate another reason for why the average wine drinker may not benefit from expert wine ratings: he or she simply doesn’t like the same types of wines as experts. This is consistent with Weil (2001, 2005), who finds that even among the subset of tasters who can distinguish between good and bad vintages, or reserve or regular bottlings, they are as likely to prefer the “better” one as the “worse” one."