A number of years ago, during an intermission in a lengthy gardening class, a Buddhist man made a remark that has stuck with me ever since.
Several men were clustered together partaking of coffee and doughnuts. One complained that it took a while to get to the business of the day because his morning routine took so long. After all, a guy has to take the time to sit on the toilet.
The Buddhist said, “Hey, that’s important.”
And, you know, it really is.
But we take for granted that we have a bathroom equipped with a toilet and running water, including the sewage system to support our hygiene habits. Until the past 100 years or so, it wasn’t that way. Half of the homes in America didn’t have indoor toilets as late as the 1930’s.
Disposal of human waste has been a problem through the centuries. It left itss impact on customs as well as architecture, clothing and eating and drinking habits.
Great civilizations, such as the Babylonians and Romans, developed some type of sewage systems. In general though, down through history poor sanitation caused diseases, plagues and shorter life expectancies.
For centuries bathing was done infrequently. Chamber pots were common. Toilet paper was unheard of until the 1800’s but wasn’t widely used for decades after that.
It wasn’t unusual for men to walked nearest the street when with a lady to protect her in case someone dumped their chamber pot from above.
Flush toilets actually created more problems than they solved at first because raw sewage went untreated into rivers. This was further compounded as urban populations swelled in cities like London and Paris.
We owe a debt of grattitude to engineers and plumbers for making life more healthy and bearable.
Today less developed countries still face dangers from parasites, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and other illnesses. Consider the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
On the other hand, even today in modern America, e. coli raises its ugly head in our food supply.
But what will waste disposal be like in the future if our technology is set back 200 years due to a massive solar storm or nuclear blasts? Could a glimpse into history shed light on that for us?
If you’re curious, check out Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up, by Sarah Albee. It’s geared for children ages 9-12. But it’s OK if you read it, too.
As you might expect, this book is easy to read. It includes numerous sidebars loaded with factoids. Some briefly describe “Icky Occupations” and “Hygiene Heroes.”
Near the end is a brief history of diapers. Colorful illustrations throughout the book should hold the attention of its intended audience.
Even the resource list is interesting. I’m sure it’s not exhaustive, but who knew so many others have written about such things?
Poop Happened! is both entertaining and fascinating. It’s also thought provoking as well when you consider the problems public health has posed through time.
Get Poop Happened! by clicking on its title wherever you see it in this post.
You might also appreciate The Humanure Handbook.