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Memories of the 28th Century

Smells and Spices

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As one person put it: "If you canít tell what it is then you probably shouldnít eat it." We were discussing Chinese food at the time, but I think that rule fits any cuisine; although there have been enough examples of Chinese restaurants being shutdown for serving things that are not generally considered edible that they are good examples

Seriously, if you are going to pour on so much in other flavors that one canít taste the main ingredient, then have something else.

I started writing a post about the excess use of fragrances, especially by men, and I may get back to that, but there is a related problem that is more widespread and more serious. There are many people who seem to hate the flavor of food, so they hide the flavor under so much spice, sauce, and miscellaneous garbage, that they may as well be eating sawdust with all that stuff on it. There are things that have many ingredients that become something other than the ingredients, such as Italian tomato sauce, but there are dishes from some cuisines that smother excellent flavors, and that is horrible. I have had curried zucchini, and it was a waste of zucchini; that put me in fear of encountering curried asparagus, that would make me cry. But I started this because I ate at a place that tried to celebrate the Chinese New Year by serving Chinese food, and those items that were recognizable as something were barely edible.

A short time ago, while I was eating some less tainted food, I realized that both piling garbage on food and using large amounts of perfume are very similar behaviors. Both result in something becoming less natural, but please don't take that idea to be any more than I intended. I don't mean "natural" in the "natural foods" concept; I simply mean natural to be a basic, unadorned, and unadulterated condition, so that one can tell what something is by its flavor. I like food that looks, smells, and tastes like food instead of smelling or tasting like something else. And I am the same way about people. I prefer people, especially women, to smell, look, and taste like women, rather than like something from a chemical manufacturer. And I would rather not smell and certainly not taste men at all. Unfortunately, some men seem to think that smelling like the proverbial "French whorehouse" is desirable. I have yet to meet anyone of either sex or any sexual preference who likes overly perfumed men, but I haven't been looking very hard.

Don't take that to mean that I like the smell of dirty people. I would prefer that people be clean but unperfumed, and my experience, limited though that is, is that most other people of both sexes share that opinion. I suspect that some people have succumbed to a marketing campaign for selling perfumes to men. I wonder which company created that campaign. I may try to figure that out, but maybe not. And it is possible that this situation is simply the end of centuries of people trying to hide their dirt under perfumes, and hiding the rotten smell of spoiled food under strong smells and flavors.

If spoiled food were a major problem where I live, then I would change my eating habits, and I might be more open to smelly, strong flavored spices, but around here food only goes bad if it is poorly stored or the refrigerator dies. In other parts of the world, bad food is more common, and perhaps the Chinese cooks have grown up with food that was starting to go bad, so they had to hide that flavor. If that was the problem, then they should be taught to discard spoiled food. But then there is the matter of Chinese restaurants being caught serving things that are banned by law, in which case it is better for them not to let customers see what the food is.

Could it be that some people think they are starting to rot, so they pour on the perfumes to try to hide that? Or could it be that some people think that their natural fragrance says something about them that they would prefer not be known? I do not know the answers to those questions, but I suspect that it could go either way in different cases. My experience has been that the best women do not use much, if any, perfume, and I would suspect that the same is true of men, but I'm not the one to judge.

As for the rule about seeing what one is eating, that is a rule that I followed for a long time, and I am suspicious of darkened restaurants.

I do not expect to come to a general understanding of excess fragrances on food or people, but it was something to think about, and it brings me back to two novels in which fragrances are central, "Jitterbug Perfume" and "Das parfum"

I have read for decades that the sense of smell deteriorates as one ages, and there was a time when I thought that was happening, but that probably was from smoking, rather than from age, and I am still not anywhere near old enough to lose my sense of smell (olfactory sense), but I sometimes find myself wishing that I were that old, because some smells smell worse now than they did in the past, and worst kind of smells include the scents that some people use to cover natural body smells. I would rather smell real sweat than the stenches that people use to cover that smell. I have gotten the impression that the smells that men use are worse than what women use, but it might be that women just have a better idea of how much to use, while men just use too much.

I have avoided interrogating wearers of such smells, but maybe I should, because I strongly suspect that many of them canít smell anything, so they have no idea how bad they smell. And since men are the worst offenders, it might be a result of women having better senses of smell, so they can tell how heavy the scent is.

Another possibility is that some men think that that the artificial scents that are added to many products show how things are supposed to smell, as in the right and proper amount of scent, and we all know that many companies add excess scent to products because they mistakenly think that makes the product seem more desirable, and others add excess scent to hide bad smells in their products. It is similar to what textile companies do to things that were dyed poorly of incorrectly; they redye them with a color that will cover the mistake, and companies with a problem with a scent will add another smell to cover the mistake. That doesnít make something smell better; it simply makes it smell more. That seems to be especially true of products are are ostensibly for cleaning something, but instead of removing smells, they add smells to try to create the impression that is is cleaner, even though clean things do not smell at all.

The relevant literature isn't very helpful, because it simply repeats what is generally known, that women tend to have better sense of smell than men and that more men than women have no sense of smell. On the other hand, some of the best senses of smell are owned by men, and that reminded me of the the novels "Das Parfum" by Patrick Susskind and "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins. In both there is a male character with an especially good sense of smell, and the association of fragrance with other things is very important. Both are well written and good reads, but they are very different. I believe that Robbins' novel was set off by Susskind's novel, but I may be mistaken on that.

Susskind's novel is about a murder committed because the character is obsessed with the fragrance of women, particularly of the victim. It is rather odd, but there are some women whose scents are unforgettable. Alas, my sense of smell isn't as good as I might like, so I frequently miss those fragrances, but sometimes I get flashes of great detail of fragrance.

How Smell and Taste Change as You Age

Paper on ageing and smell

sex differences in human olfaction

Das Parfum by Patrick Susskind

Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Updated 01-25-2020 at 06:09 PM by PeterL