I field-tested three remedies to crop dust without consequences.
“Why are you farting in your son’s face?” my wife asks.
It’s a fair question, deserving of a reasonable explanation. Before I can say anything, Charlie, my 5-year-old, turns to her and announces, “It’s for science.”
Yes, that seems about right.
I let one rip. It’s a glorious sound. Like a Molotov cocktail thrown into a bagpipe factory. Charlie breathes in and smiles.
“You should smell this, Mom,” he tells her, his eyes lighting up like I imagine Thomas Edison’s did when he figured out incandescent light bulbs. “It doesn’t smell like butt at all!”
Wait, I can explain.
This all started because of him. Charlie. My fart-curious son.
Being the parent of a 5-year-old boy has taught me —or rather, reminded me—of a universal truth: Farts are fucking hilarious.
No sane person would deny this. Show me somebody who doesn’t laugh when he hears a butt yodel and I’ll show you somebody who has no soul.
But even the most aesthetically perfect fart loses its comedic thunder when it reaches your nose. The difference between an entertaining fart and a fart that ruins your day with its terrifying stench is like the difference between a perfectly-constructed joke and a joke that begins with, “I’m not racist or anything, but…”
No less an authority than St. Augustine, the ancient Christian theologian, once noted that the “musical sounds” that people produced “from their behind(s)” could be beautiful, as long as they came “without any stink.”
An equally significant deep thinker, Sarah Silverman, called farts “the sign language of comedy.”
If you can deliver a loud but inodorous fart at the perfect moment —during a funeral or wedding or any emotional gathering—you’ll be hailed as this generation’s Buster Keaton. But Dutch oven a loved one and you’re a sociopath.
I saw this flatulent distinction played out on Charlie’s face, every time I floated an air biscuit to make him laugh. First came the expression of pure, unadulterated joy. And then, when he breathed in the second act, it morphed into pure revulsion. I had made a thing of beauty, and then ruined it with a malodorous punchline.
A fart is supposed to inspire a guffaw, an innocent recognition of the faulty mechanisms governing our internal organs, not a pained grimace like you’d just stumbled onto “2 Girls 1 Cup.”
I want to be a good father. And my son Charlie, well, he wants to respect his dad again. So we joined forces, two immature minds from two very different generations, in an attempt to crack the fart code.
Is it possible, we wondered, to crop dust without the stench of ammonia? We field-tested three possible remedies.
George Preti, Ph.D., an organic chemist who studies body odors at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, suggested we try bismuth subsalicylate, the fancy science name for Pepto-Bismol.
“Chemistry-wise, this makes sense,” Preti told me, “since bismuth compounds readily react with sulfur compounds, like hydrogen sulfide, which are major contributors to flatulence odor.”
There was some disagreement between Charlie and I about how much Pepto I should consume.
Purna Kashyap, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic, told me that the average person farts between 500 and 1,500 milliliters of gas every day. Using these numbers, Charlie reasoned that I should be taking at least that much Pepto to counteract the smell. But the suggested dosage for Pepto is just 30 milliliters, or no more than 120 milliliters within 24 hours.
We compromised. I took the maximum dosage. Eight tablespoons (though I think Charlie over-poured.) I became dizzy and disoriented, and was briefly convinced I was having a stroke. But I did manage a few farts.
The consensus: My farts smelled like a YMCA locker room. Not clean, per sae, but definitely bleachy.
I agreed to a second bismuth experiment, swallowing eight chewable internal deodorant tablets that contain the flatulence-repressing chemical bismuth subgallate (or “C7H5BiO6”), which Charlie argued would be “more scientific.”
It was my own fault. I knew it was a terrible idea—but he was convinced the tablets would make my farts smell like bananas. As it turns out, they were only banana flavored.
I couldn’t squeeze out a single fart for over three days, my poops were as black as Steve Bannon’s nightmares, and my breath smelled “like a monkey,” according to my sniggering offspring.
It’s debatable whether a grown man should be picking out underwear on the Internet with a minor. Much less when it involves conversations like, “Will this limit the aromatic force of your O-ring oboe?”
We were torn between the Flat-D—a disposable charcoal cloth pad for your butt, just $32.95 plus shipping— and Shreddies, which while considerably more expensive (between $47 and $70) were also more badass. They’re also called “Shreddies,” which is so juvenile that it could only have been named by pre-teens.
Unlike the Flat-D, the makers of Shreddies don’t offer lame perks like a thin, comfortable fabric. Instead, they promise “the same carbon filter used in chemical warfare suits.”
Jesus fucknuts, who has farts so noxious that they require the same protective material of a hazmat suit?
If your farts are on a terrorist watch list, you maybe need something a little stronger than snug underwear.
I ordered a pair of the pricier Shreddies support boxers, which would purportedly “maximize flatulence filtration and enhance the profile of the package area.” Okay then! Not exactly what I was in the market for, but the extra lift was definitely appreciated.
The Shreddies did manage to block my flatulent bouquet, but it also muffled my farts to an unsatisfying echo. “It’s like I’m listening to your fart through a seashell,” Charlie told me.
I’ve longed subscribed to the dietary sonnet, “Beans, beans, the musical fruit/ The more you eat, the more you toot.”
But what if you’re looking to do the opposite? Not toot less, but toot less egregiously? Where’s our helpful rhyme? “If this you choose to eat and drink/ Then you can bet your farts won’t stink.”
Chu Yao, a researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has studied the origins of the rotten egg smell in anal acoustics. Most farts, she says, are just “99% non-odorous gas and 1% sulfur-containing gases, which gives flatus the pungent smell.”
The math is on your side, but that 1% of sulfur gases can be like a nitrogen bomb.
Foods with a lot of sulfur tend to be exactly what you’d expect: Red meat, broccoli, onion, cauliflower, dairy. In other words, anything on the Paleo Diet.
But here’s where Yao’s research gets interesting. She and her co-fart inquisitors found that all that fart-inducing protein got substantially less stinky by adding slowly-absorbed carbohydrates like potatoes, beans, cereals, bananas, wheat, and asparagus—the very culprits often blamed for causing farts.
During Yao’s lab experiments with poop—let’s all try not to imagine what that involved—when starches and fructans were combined with protein, it decreased the amount of hydrogen sulfide, the sulfur-causing gas that makes people wince during a sphincter siren, by a staggering 90%, Yao says.
The problem is, it’s an imperfect science. You can’t just tell somebody, “Have some bananas with your steak, you’ll be fine.” Everybody’s body chemistry is unique.
You can’t announce to your gut, “I gave you some slowly-absorbed carbohydrates, so please behave,” because it will shout back, “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell” in a perfect Exorcist demonic fart-growl.
But in a way, that’s what makes it fun. You get to engineer your own emissions. When you treat food like dangerous chemicals in your own home fart laboratory, you can learn some remarkable things about your internal chemistry.
I learned, for instance, that when Charlie drinks a half-gallon of milk, he’s capable of farting an odorless melody reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”
For me, a grilled onion sandwich on whole wheat, followed immediately by chugging a beer, will inspire some “Flight of the Bumblebee”-style wind breaking with the pleasant aroma of a bowl of potpourri.
I don’t know why. But by god, we’re going to keep investigating. I may have to pull Charlie out of school for further education. Yes, yes, his education. But what about the farts?
[This story was originally published, in a slightly different form, in VICE.]