Guest Post by A. Hack
A new scientific breakthrough may soon allow people to decide how much of each food type they digest, or even to digest none of the food they are eating.
A device being dubbed The Roman Box filters food as it passes into the stomach, applying a combination of chemical and electrical processes to change its composition. The device also has a discrete set of dials and an external outlet which allows the owner to configure their digestion and channel some or all of the food out of the body before it is digested, to be collected in a 'gastrostomy' bag.
The name Roman Box is a reference to the practice, said to be common among the rich in Roman times, of vomiting during a feast to allow more food to be eaten.
Peter Perkins, an engineer from Bedford, UK, says he has been working on the invention for several years but the product is now finally ready to go into production.
"This is the most significant breakthrough in dieting science there has ever been," he said yesterday."For the first time, we will be able to physically intervene in the process of digestion, allowing people to choose whether to digest the food they are eating and if so which type of nutrients to absorb."
"It came to me when I was deliberately throwing up after an especially large eating binge about 10 years ago," he explained. "I realised that if I could stop the food getting as far as the stomach in the first place, there would be no need for all that effort."
"Then, when I read about all these low carb, low fat, or high protein diets I decided what people also needed was to be able to separate the constraints on macronutrients from decisions on meal composition. If they could choose the meal they wanted to eat, while separately determining the percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrate that digested, then they would be in full control."
Yet attractive though this may sound, it raises profound questions about the implications for human eating behaviour.
Would party-goers turn their absorption down to zero and eat continuously all night? According to Mr Perkins, the only downside might be forgetting to empty your gastrostomy bag, since a full one will prevent the machine from working properly.
"I got so drunk one time that I forgot to empty my bag," he recalls. "I thought I was low carbing all my burgers but ended up gaining 5 lbs at a barbecue.
Critics argue the machine will encourages binge eating and ask what will stop a person from eating if their hunger is never sated. Whereas overeating a favourite food used to mean becoming full from eating it, now the prospect of instead becoming bored seems realistic; or might more physical factors come into play, such as the oesophagus eventually become painful or jaw ache?
Others warn that the widespread use of the Roman Box could cause a massive spike in food demand, as culinary decadence sweeps the globe.
"It's obscene," said a spokesman for Oxfam. "In fact I'm almost speechless with horror at the idea that while children starve in the developing world, people would see this as a good idea."
Mr Perkins' work has also provoked anger in the medical and nutrition world. Arnold Clamshell of the Centre for Medical Ethics said yesterday "This is a truly unfortunate development and an illustration that technological advances can nevertheless represent moral and ethical regression."
Anyone desperate to have a Roman Box fitted may have to wait, however. Mr Perkins, who is currently recovering from multiple organ failure in London Royal Infirmary, is sketchy when quizzed on the commercial status of his product.
"My mate Dave used to be a vet and my other mate, John, is in sales," he explains. "It's the perfect storm. My idea and their expertise. Within a few months we'll have this baby on the production line and I'll be choosing a yacht for my wife."
Mr Perkins' doctor is less sanguine.
"To be honest he's lucky to be alive," says Professor Legg, a senior surgeon at the hospital. "He appears to have allowed someone to fit a crude device between his oesophagus and his stomach which channels food out of his body via a puncture wound in his upper thorax."
"There were some dials attached to this device and externalised just above the sternum, apparently taken from an old radio. They appeared to regulate the release of liquids from bottles housed in the device and also change the voltage on a rusty electrode which extended into the stomach. Mr Perkins is not a well man."
A neighbour of Mr Perkins, who wishes to remain anonymous, says Mr Perkins and his friends had been drinking heavily on the day he was admitted to hospital and strange noises could be heard coming from his garage throughout the afternoon. "He has a history of mental illness," said the man. "I think that tells you all you need to know."