Ben Franklin on Flatulence

It may be difficult for some to accept that one of our founding fathers conceived of and wrote the following; nevertheless, it is so. I give you an excerpt from Fart Proudly: Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School, edited by Carl Japikse.

Fart Proudly

…It is universally well known, that in digesting our common food, there is created or produced in the bowels of human creatures, a great quantity of wind.

That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid smell that accompanies it.

That all well-bred People therefore, to avoid giving such offence, forcibly restrain the efforts of nature to discharge that wind.

That so retained contrary to Nature, it not only gives frequently great present pain, but occasions future diseases such as habitual cholics, ruptures, tympanies, &c., often destructive of the constitution and sometimes of life itself.

Were it not for the odiously offensive smell accompanying such escapes, polite people would probably be under no more restraint in discharging such wind in company, than they are in spitting, or in blowing their noses.

My prize question therefore should be, To discover some drug wholesome and not disagreeable, to be mixed with our common food, or sauces, that shall render the natural discharges, of wind from our bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreeable as Perfumes.

That this is not a chimerical Project, and altogether impossible, may appear from these considerations. That we already have some knowledge of the means capable of varying that smell. He that dines on stale flesh, especially with much addition of onions, shall be able to afford a stink that no company can tolerate; while he that has lived for some time on vegetables only, shall have that breath so pure as to be insensible to the most delicate noses; and if he manage so as to avoid the report, he may any where give vent to his griefs unnoticed….

It seems that in the 200+ years since Franklin wrote the above, the concept has yet to catch on. Possibly the chemical composition of fecal matter (sulfurous compounds, e.g., thiols), and the gases produced (e.g., hydrogen sulfide) are fundamentally incompatible with the production of pleasing smells. Franklin’s argument sounds reasonable on the surface, but thinking one level deeper, we must admit that “mildly odorous” farts (e.g., a vegetarian’s) are a long way from the the essence of blooming jasmine on a tropical summer night, and it seems even farther away when one has a rudimentary understanding of just why feces and farts stink.

BUT–can you imagine if someone was able to accomplish Franklin’s vision? It would become a new industry in its own right, and entrepreneurs able to get in on the ground floor would make billions.

A Monday morning, late summer, 2075. Elaine has just arrived at the office, eager to show off the new designer fragrance her boyfriend got her in Paris. As she passes through the cube-farm, she pauses, lifts her leg, and lets one go. An exotic aura of smell spreads across the office, conjuring images of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or some far-off Shangri-La where painted fairies dance upon Lotus blossoms under azure skies….

Praise it

Flush This

3 responses to “Ben Franklin on Flatulence

  1. Pingback: The Quest for the Odorless Fart « Things That Stink

  2. Pingback: Not Everyone’s Against Gas « The Poop Project: A Cultural Movement

  3. Pingback: Friday Weird Science: Have a great gas of a time with the Toot Trapper! | Neurotic Physiology

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