GAStronomy

I remember buying a MAD magazine, probably in the early 1960s, which contained achintzy squared-off vinyl record featuring a forgettable melody, interspersed withthe sounds of uninhibited farting and the voice of Alfred E. Neumann, or so Iassumed, uttering "It's a Gas," the song's title. It was a hoot, and it inspiredlots of us to achieve the same inimitable sound by pressing our lips against ourforearms and blowing. And then there was the schoolyard chant, which my Girl Scout troop adopted as itsmotto when we'd go on cookouts:"Beans, beans/ they're good for the heart,/ the more you eat,/ the more you fart,/the more you fart,/ the better you feel/ so eat your beans/ at every meal."Little did I know then, in my pre-enlightened franks-and-burgers days, that Iwouldn't give up beans and thus grow out of flatulence, and that I'd care andpractice and write about a style of cooking and eating that might best be called,especially for new converts, GAStronomy. Let's face it: Farting is funny, as whoopie-cushion manufacturers know. It soundsfunny, especially when it's someone else, and you're somewhere quiet like alibrary or an elevator, and it slips out in spite of what you know was someone'sefforts to squelch it. Passing gas reminds us that no matter how sophisticated weare, and how cultivated our palate, everybody is basically a mush of biochemistryflavored with a personality, and that the body often bypasses do's-and-don't'smessages from our more civilized parts. Flatulence taps into our primalscatological obsessions without crossing over into the unsuitable domain ofbowels; still, belching, probably because it comes out of our mouths, is moreacceptable, in spite of the fact that farting is often a lot more satisfyingAdmit it: How many times have you blown a raspberry the minute your dinner guestswalked out your door? Frankly, the men I've been closest with have all enjoyed farting quite a bit, boththe doing and the discussing of (and if any of you are reading this, you know whoyou are). And let's be honest: It's easier to take off your clothes with someonethan to fart with him/her/them. When a long-time friend - no, she wasn't in myGirl Scout troop - told me she had met her life-long partner, I asked about hisprior relationships, his work history, his looks, but there was really only oneimportant question: "Can you fart together yet?" I asked. And until she said yes,I didn't take it seriously. And they're not even vegetarians.Those of us who shun meat, replacing it with lots of produce and grains, legumesand beans, have lots of things to get used to, like when you drink beet juice forthe first time and your urine, later that day, turns terrifyingly red. Morecommon, though, is flatulence, sometimes so wicked that you think you'll bust yourseams, and so deep that if you could contain it, you could launch a hot air balloon and propel yourself home to Kansas. In fact, each person typically produces a quart of gas a day, according to HollyMcCord, a registered dietician and nutrition editor of Prevention magazine, butthey get rid of it without realizing it. Flatulence occurs because beans, vegetables and whole grains contain indigestiblesugars called oligosaccharides, McCord explains. Because the small intestinesdon't have the enzyme necessary to digest these sugars, the oligosaccharidescontinue to the large intestines, where some of the billions of bacteria thatreside there do digest the sugars - but the by-product is gas.This is especially annoying for new-or-evolving healthful eaters, I think, whoare, at the same time, figuring out how to tasty-up tempeh, and how to cope withThanksgiving and other traditional food rituals. Happily, there are common-senseways to decrease flatulence, says McCord. She recommends soaking beans -especially if you drain the soaking water before cooking - and eating smallamounts of gas-producing foods at one time, and "saving the noisiest offenders fora day when you're staying at home."I remember the Book and the Cook Fair in 1993, when a lot of people were walkingaround wearing "Ask me about Beano" pins - you know, Beano, the high-octane stuffwith the slogan "Have a quiet day," which diminishes digestive gas by providingthe enzyme that breaks down those sugars in the small intestines. (A note ofcaution: People allergic to mold or penicillin should check with a physicianbefore taking Beano or B-sure, a competitive product.) So I did. I went up to a guy at the Beano exhibit and said, "So what should I askyou about Beano?" He said, "Ask me if it works."I said, "So does it work?""Ask my wife," he said, motioning her to join us. "So does it work?" I asked her."He's become a vegetarian," she said. "I eat meat. We're still together. Does thatanswer your question?"

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