Across the Board Food NYU Stories

Why My Mom Farts a Lot and Americans are Constipated

There was something magical about coming home to an assortment of aromas that most of my friends would consider garlicy, strong, or an odd mix of unfamiliar flavors. A bellow of steam would rise from the stovetops with the blaring sound of a K-drama playing from my mom’s computer a bit too loudly.  But those combinations of complex smells and scratchy sounds became dear to me; whether it be kimchi jigae, gaeryan mari, or bibimbap. Being a Korean American living with a mother who could arguably cook some of the best Korean dishes, I grew up with Korean food and was fed Korean food habitually.

Banchan, traditional Korean side dishes that accompany the main meal

This is the story of why “bang-gu”, meaning fart in Korean, became a habitual word in my house, the reason my mom rips not just one, but multiple a day, and why over 5 million Americans suffer from constipation.

When the kimchi is on the cutting board and the tofu is out, I know my umma has had a stressful day. My mom’s favorite food, ever since she was a child, was kimchi-jigae, a Korean stew composed of the main ingredient, kimchi, along with other vegetables and meats. Kimchi is a dish composed of salted and fermented cabbage and napa leaves. Due to the fermented nature of the dish, Kimchi is usually associated with a very pungent and sharp smell. In fact, a lot of Korean foods are associated with these negative and not-so-appealing connotations for a reason; A good number of Korean foods undergo the fermenting process. No, this is not going to be another one of your, “I was made fun of in elementary school because my lunch smelled and it was embarrassing to my western and white-washed classmates” stories. Quite the opposite—if someone had a problem with my bulgogi, kimchi, and rice, that was a loss for them and a reflection of their insipid taste to my 3rd-grade self.

Typical scene of my old usual after-school routine. My Umma makes arguably some of the best Korean food in the world.

I was never too fond of kimchi-jigae while growing up but umma made the dish without fail at least once a week. Imagine eating a fresh kimchi-jigae on the first day, eating the leftovers on the second day, and then repeating the cycle over and over. As to why my mom made it so much, it was because it was comfort food for her as my grandma made it for her and her siblings almost every day growing up. My brothers and I ate a lot of meat so umma added a lot of pork belly every time. It was how she got me to eat it when she prepared it. Maybe it was because of the pork or maybe the kimchi, but my umma has always been a gassy person. I mean letting it rip – my mom farted constantly. On the days we would eat the dish, her flatulence would usually double. I always made fun of her for farting so much but also, it added to why I wasn’t too fond of kimchi-jiage. It made the house smell in more ways than one; it made umma a fart-inducing machine. All in all, there was nothing special to me about kimchi-jigae; it was just another Korean dish that umma occasionally cooked. 

Umma’s homemade kimchijigae, with pork belly, tofu, kimchi, served with rice

Freshman year of college, I was introduced to the world of dining hall food. Surprisingly it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I didn’t mind the quality and with the addition of desserts at almost every dining hall, I was pretty satisfied. I tried to maintain a pretty healthy diet in college though it was my first time being handed control over eating whatever I wanted and whenever I wanted. Still, I made sure to get my essential food groups in, with the occasional 3 am Insomnia Cookie runs. Overall, I was pretty healthy, or at least, healthy for your average college freshman. 

But then, tragedy struck.

I could not for the life of me go number two.

During the middle of the first semester, I started feeling intense stomach pains, piercing cramps, brain fog, struggles with focusing, and problems with sleeping. I tried to pinpoint what the source of my problems could have been. On the toilet of the 8th-floor bathroom at Bobst Library, it hit me. I had not pooped in three days. I was constipated. I was eating all the right foods; I was eating vegetables, fruit, chicken, dairy, everything. So why was I facing complications with digestion? 

I learned the importance of gut health through experience. As we all know, bowel movement is a natural action and is an essential activity of regulating our digestive system. Without defecating, we become constipated, and with constipation comes all sorts of discomfort; stomach pain, cramps, and worse. 

Why am I talking about constipation?  For two reasons. 

Constipation can surprisingly affect you more than you think, and many Americans suffer from it daily. Constipation can be derived from all sorts of things but the leading cause of constipation is an unbalanced gut microbiome. To understand the importance of your gut, here’s a quick nutrition session on the role of our guts.

Our gut microbiomes have up to 1000 different bacterial species and each one plays its own distinct role. The gut microbiome plays an essential role in regulating your health. It aids in digesting the foods you consume, absorbs their nutrients, and overall, aids in maintaining and fueling your body. The gut microbiome is also linked to your central nervous system, which is linked to areas of activity in your brain. With an unbalanced or damaged gut, the consequences are cascading. It can lead to digestive issues, allergies, obesity, and more. But the mental effects of a poor gut are even more harmful. If your gut is imbalanced, the immune system deteriorates, and along with that comes the problems of the body releasing serotonin, hormones, and other essential neurotransmitters. Essentially, your gut is key to maintaining a healthy, functioning body.

Because our gut is directly linked to our brains, when people refer to the phrase, “gut feeling” as a sense of intuition, whether you know it or not, your brain is triggering that sensation, which is quite literally why you are feeling the “gut feeling”!

This is a cartoon image that shows how our brain is directly connected with our guts, the bacteria in our guts directly affecting our CNS (Central Nervous System)

So how exactly does one pass a healthy movement?

Probiotics and healthy microbes are the answer to regulating a healthy gut and probiotics and healthy microbes come in many forms and certain foods. A principal food group that provides those essential nutrients comes in the form of fermented foods; my personal favorite, Korean food. Kimchi contains a probiotic called lactobacillus, a bacteria that helps regulate digestion, absorb nutrients, and also aids in fighting the “bad” bacteria in your body. Similar life-sustaining bacteria can be found in other Korean dishes such as chongkukjang, doenjang, and other traditional fermented Korean foods.

Doenjang-jiage, another Korean dish that undergoes similar fermenting processes,

After discovering the importance of these bacteria to your health, I realized why I had never had these issues back at home. With my mom cooking our meals, I was always eating Korean food and therefore, my body was receiving these essential nutrients that we all need.

The next week, I deviated from the dining halls and headed towards New York’s Koreatown. My everyday dining hall plate was replaced with to-go orders of kimchi-jiage, bibimbap, and other Korean foods. Within a week, I thankfully began to poop again. 

Selection of Korean foods at H-Mart, which became one of my go-to places during this time of constipation

When my fecal system became regular again, I realized why my mom farted so much. She was always eating Korean food. Her digestive system was constantly regulated by the Korean food she consumed. I also realized that these foods were absent from the American diet.

Didn’t help with the smell though. 

Besides the familiarity of home and food that I grew to love growing up, my mother’s Korean cooking conveyed so much more important value. It directly connected to my health and made me realize I was unaware of its effects until I lived away from it coming to university. The direct comparison of its effects and research helped me realize not only the importance of the food I ate, but also how important one’s traditional cuisine plays a role in the growth of their health. With the underestimated importance of the gut microbiome, it is my hope that fermented foods such as Korean food and as well the other featured cuisines become more incorporated into the American diet. Not only do these foods taste good, but as food is our nourishment, and we should be able to provide our bodies with the health and importance it deserves and needs.

Constipated man, Korean Banchan, Gut and Brain Connection, Doenjang jigae, H-mart Foods

1 comment on “Why My Mom Farts a Lot and Americans are Constipated

  1. damn now i miss my mom AND i’m craving korean food:( this article is amazing!! i LOLed multiple times fr


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