All Aboard

May Men's Room column

Mens Room Main

The train needs to move. It has to leave the station, chug out of the rail yard, pick up speed, and clickety-clack along – up hills, over rivers, around mountains, beside interstates, and through cities, tunnels, and miles of open country. Let that whistle blow. The train has to go.

I get it. That’s why, every day, I drag a bowl of powder out of my pantry and load a tablespoon of it into a glass of water. Then I stir, stir, stir, and stir some more, hoping it will dissolve and live up to its “nonthickening” promise. (Most days, it thickens.) This is a probiotic, because an amateur biotic just isn’t enough to get my train moving.

There’s health, and then there are all the substrains of it: heart health, joint health, dental health, mental health, eye health, ear/ nose/throat health, and, no doubt, even toenail health and navel health.

Then there’s digestive health, the down-and-dirty one we have to deal with but pretend otherwise. It’s also called gut health, though some people hear that and figure it’s about drinking more beer. Maybe it is, in a way, because it’s good for us to ingest more fermented stuff. At least, that’s what I heard a doctor say during a presentation on digestion. (Yes, I actually went to this talk. I was at a book festival, and all the other events were backed up.)

Like a seasoned conductor, the physician plotted the freight route from loading zone to delivery depot. His book is called All Aboard: Train Yourself to Give That Caboose a Boost. Or it should be.

He explained that our good bacteria from the good ol’ bacterial days are getting replaced by the processed “food” we eat out of boxes, bags, bottles, and pouches. He trashed my diet as a boxcar of bad microbes that drag me down, mentally and physically, leaving me lingering at the station with no ticket to ride. He talked about oxytocin, triglycerides, and alpha-amylase inhibitors, and soon my sluggish inner voice said, “No more Pringles. No more Dunkin’ Donuts. No more fun.”

The answer, according to Dr. Regularity, is for me to train myself to stop eating the wheat, barley, rice, and umpteen other grains I have in my kitchen cabinets. I’m supposed to dump them and instead chew-chew plenty of fermented foods.

Like kefir. I have no idea what that is.

And kimchi. Don’t know that one, either, but it looks like I’m supposed to up my intake of foods that start with k.

Then he said it: kombucha. That one I know. It’s the near-beer of soft drinks, a fizzy fermentation of tea, bacteria, and yeast. Kombucha also has sugar, but that’s the only ingredient it shares with my beloved Mtn Dew. Drinking kombucha is like eating an Alka-Seltzer and chasing it with sauerkraut juice. At least, that’s the way it seems to me, a guy whose palate was refined by chocolate milk and Little Debbie Zebra Cakes. (Those things have zero kefir or kimchi. Yum.)

Am I willing to derail my loco motives and stop eating the fun stuff? Life is an endless train of hard questions that await us at the junction of What We Want and What We Need: this way to feel good, that way to be well. Is it time to board the Digestion Express? Dare I risk being left behind?

Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of the arts program in creative writing.

To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to

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Categories: Culture