Friday, December 2, 2011

#91: The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters by Rose George

New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008. 277 Pages

This book is about shit. Rose George quotes a study wherein 7 categories of euphemism are used for that word, and points out that sanitation is a taboo subject in no small part because it concerns shit. (11) I don't know anything about sanitation. I push the lever and away the shit goes. I don't know where it goes, nor do I care how it gets there. So what if the readers of the British Journal of Medicine  voted sanitation as the most important single development in public health over the last 200 years?

Of the many statistics, stories and people who dropped my jaw while I was reading this book, this is the biggest: "diarrhea kills more children under 5 than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria...and 4 in 10 people on earth defecate in fields or on roadsides." (67) 2.6 billion people do not have a toilet. George's description of the public toilets in Mumbai slums or Chinese villages or some South African schools have to be read to be believed. The next time some student asks me to go to the bathroom, I will unhesitatingly say "Yes". UNICEF points out that many students in Sub-Saharan Africa and India drop out of school in no small part because the school has incredibly filthy bathrooms. (83-84)

George goes from the International Toilet Expo to Tanzania, China, India, South Africa, London's sewers (most of which are not mapped) and finds that shit is everywhere, consumes incredible amounts of water and that Americans have shitty toilets. Meaning not that the Thrones are covered in the brown stuff, but by and large they do not function as well as European toilets. Nor do they cook breakfast and sing Tom Jones songs like Japanese made toilets.

I looked up the TOTO made "Neorest" model, and for $3400-$3800 bucks, you can have a remote controlled toilet with a heated seat and "Front and rear warm water washing". It is this thing, the "warm water washing" that frustrates Westerners. You can also buy a washlet that has a self cleaning extending wand that will provide "the ultimate in personal cleansing" according to the TOTO USA website. George writes "in modern Japan, washlets are as taken for granted as band aids" (39) I do know that toilet paper is nasty and I dislike the stuff. After her escapades in shitdom, George has adapted her own toilet habits. Nothing says nasty like FOG (fat, oil and grease) that congeals in a sewer and actually closes it off. Nothing says eat some fries like a man in a hazmat suit hammering at solidified fat in a sewer. Good Lord. I felt filthy reading this book, but it was worth it.

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