Saturday, April 30, 2011

National Sense of Smell Day: A Time to Reflect

Today is National Sense of Smell Day. It was established in 1993 by The Sense of Smell Institute, the educational arm of The Fragrance Foundation. Though efforts on the part of both nonprofit institutions to promote National Sense of Smell Day have dwindled, interest in the subject of olfaction has grown. A large part of this is due to the link between flavor and fragrance which makes the sense of smell more tangible. Say the word “smell” and noses turn away. Say the word “aroma” and suddenly you have everyone’s attention. There’s another reason why the sense of smell is beginning to resonate in the culture; people are losing it.

Anosmia is the loss of the sense of smell. It collaborates with tongue cancer as a protagonist In Grant Achatz’ memoir “A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat.” Anosmia visits writer Molly Birnbaum who was preparing for classes at The Culinary Institute of America when she was injured in an automobile accident that affected her sense of smell. “Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way” tells the story of Birnbaum’s encounter with anosmia and her efforts to regain her sense of smell (which included an immersion in the perfume arts). Gardener Bonnie Blodgett used Zicam® Nasal Gel and soon found herself with a case of anosmia, (the product was removed from store shelves after a warning issued by the FDA in 2009). Ms. Blodgett shares her odyssey in “Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing – and Discovering – the Primal Sense.”

Anosmia is linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and is thought to be an early indicator of both degenerative diseases. This fact pushes anosmia into the spotlight. Still, there is something taboo about the sense of smell. Let’s face it, everything that falls under our nose isn't pleasant. Imagine if you never had a sense of smell. Would you feel like you lost anything? In an upcoming post  Glass Petal Smoke will interview a woman who was born with anosmia. What you find out will change the way you think about the sense of smell. 

Further Reading/Notes:

Anosmia from the point of view of The Moody Blues' Justin Hayward. The musician talks about his bout of temporary anosmia, caused by sinus problems. From the Wimbledon Clinic.

Anosmia on Wikipedia (includes a list of causes).

National Sense of Smell Day is celebrated on the last Saturday of April every calendar year.  

Photo of researcher Florence Negre smelling snapdragons in the Purdue greenhouse by Tom Campbell of Purdue Agricultural Communications.