I expected Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach to be an adult version of the Magic School Bus, taking the reader on the wild but educational ride of the digestive circuit from start to finish. While Roach certainly gives each and every part of the alimentary canal its time in the spotlight, Gulp is less Magic School Bus and more Ripley’s Believe it or Not, collaging historical research, anecdote, and conversations with bizarre specialists to document the more extreme circumstances the human body may find itself in.
Like the chapter where Roach visits a penitentiary to learn more about ‘hooping’ — whether it’s a drug mule smuggling cocaine across the border, or an inmate smuggling a cell phone into prison, hooping is essentially using the anus for its load carrying capacity — Roach goes far and wide in her search for the digestive extremes.
Despite the focus on the bizarre and often cringe-inducing, some of my favorite parts of the book were the segments that focused on genuine curiosities: Why do we like things that ‘crunch’? Why are we grossed out by things that come out of our body when they were created by our body in the first place? In her search to answer these questions, Roach presents a bizarre array of academic specialists whose answers are almost as interesting as their fields of study. There’s a gastroenterologist who performs transplants of colon bacteria (inserting a donor’s fecal matter as a cure for crippling digestive problems), a saliva specialist, a food physicist who studies the science behind a satisfying crunch, and even a ‘disgust expert’ referenced in the footnotes.
Roach clearly put in the time and the effort to put forth the most obscure digestion-related stories with maximum entertainment value, but I kept waiting for the narrative that tied it all together. Ultimately, the chapters are freestanding vignettes tied together by topic and the proclivity to end in a punch line. That sounds like a knock, but as a pun-lover, the punch lines were both delightful and, more often than not, chuckle-worthy. Take Roach’s post-colonoscopy, closing words, after likening the wonder felt from seeing her own organs to the wonder of seeing the northern lights:
“You may be thinking, Wow, that Mary Roach has her head up her ass. To which I say: Only briefly, and with the utmost respect.”
Although I strongly considered making chocolate covered bananas, or something equally visually appropriate for the alimentary canal, I ultimately came back to our penchant for all things crispy-crunchy. So in honor of the innate human love of crunch, and more accurately, the sound of a crunch, I decided to make crunchy curried chick peas. They are a crunchy snack with some major consonance, lending an equally satisfying sound to the name.
CRUNCHY CURRIED CHICK PEAS
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed, drained and dried well
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Pour well-dried chickpeas onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and use a spatula to loosen up any chickpeas that are sticking to the bottom of the pan. Roast for another 10 minutes, or until chickpeas begin to crisp up. To test for readiness: don't rely on a change of color. When the chickpeas turn brown they've become burned. Instead, check with the press of a finger: you want them to be slightly crisp on the outside but still soft on the inside.
While the chickpeas are roasting, combine the olive oil, paprika, lemon juice, cumin, curry powder, thyme, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Transfer the roasted chickpeas to the bowl and carefully toss them in the mixture until well coated. Return to the baking sheet and roast another 4-5 minutes. Once out of the oven, allow them to cool for 2-3 minutes; serve warm.
Adapted from The Kitchn