I was writing the other day about fermenting cabbage to make sauerkraut. Michael Pollan's position is that all the interesting aspects of food preparation / cooking are clever way to spare our digestive system from doing too much work. Compared to other primates, we have feeble stumps of teeth and are, even now, in the process of losing our third molars because we no longer sit on our arses chewing through a mountain of vegetation to make a living. By cooking and fermentation we pre-digest our food to release the goodness. Our guts are much shorter than those of our nearest more strictly vegetarian relatives the great apes, and with that much less weight of tripe, humans can run further than any other mammal except perhaps hunting dogs Lycaon pictus.
I had a close encounter with the indigestibility of cabbage when I lived alone in Dublin 4. My family were living down the country but I only got to eat with them at weekends because I was working in Dublin. Most nights after work I'd go round the corner to the small supermarket in Sandymount Green and stand in the check-out line with other single professionals getting the makings of dinner for one. It was sad, but at least the people in the line were cooking rather than copping-out with a take-away. The packaging didn't work well for us: a tin of baked beans is a lot for one person over the age of 20 especially if it is part of a balanced meal. One night I bought, going cheap, 500g of value stir-fry mix. This was basically a huge heap of shredded cabbage with a token garnish of peppers, mushrooms, carrots and bean-sprouts. After I brought it home, greedy me realised that we were going away for the weekend and on Monday I was off to Brussels for work. Ooops catering error: if I didn't finish the stir-fry that night I may as well throw the stuff away. I don't come from a family that throws food away, so I cooked it all up and chugged it all down.
The blood rushed from my head to deal with the meal and I soon fell into a drooling slumber in the living room chair: it had been a long day. Two hours later, it was full dark but I startled awake with a feeling of unease . . . below. As my father used to say "I felt a little rumbly in the tum". I had a small glass of cold water and waited . . . but finally threw on a coat and went for a long walk along the edge of Sandymount Strand. The mass of undigested cabbage was sitting like a so many wood-shavings in my stomach which was clearly overwhelmed. I was reminded of a dramatic moment in the film Far From the Madding Crowd when a farmer relieves one of his cows of a nearly fatal case of 'bloat' by stabbing the beast in the side to release the gas. Couldn't find the clip but here's the procedure carried out by a modern vet with a trochar.
Mais revenons nous a nos choux! The walk, or time, or jumping up and down finally developed into a brief sense of nausea before I emptied my stomach copiously over a low wall into some burgher's shrubberies. For this relief, much thanks as Francisco said to Bernardo. I felt better immediately and went home to bovine sleep for what remained of the night. Moral: never eat alone.