Challenges for Anosmics
There is no catch-all answer to what anosmics do or do not smell, taste, appreciate in food. However, not being able to smell does impact our lives, whether we are acquired or congenital anosmics.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire
A charcoaled toast or burned pan can happen to anybody, but an unpleasant smell wafting through the air will make you quickly run to the kitchen. Anosmics, on the other hand, have no clue anything is wrong until our direct environment actually becomes black with smoke.
Cooking with Gas
We can’t smell gas. If we are alone in the house and a gas detector goes off, where do we search for the problem? Many minimize the risk by cooking on an electric stove.
Raise Your Hand if You’re Sure
Many of us worry about our personal hygiene, wanting to fit in with the world of people who can smell and not put them off by stinking. Did we put on enough deodorant? Can you smell us after we have left the bathroom? I always forget my clothes stink after having been in the company of smokers – the airing of clothes (or bedding) is an abstract concept, something I learned by watching others do it, not because I myself see the purpose of it.
Quality of Life and Depression
Acquired anosmics have a memory of smell and while the severeness of their condition varies, losing (part of) their olfactory organs may have a substantial impact on the quality of life. According to a study by the Monell Chemical Senses Center, depression is relatively high among (acquired) anosmics.
A Missing Piece
Among congenital anosmics, opinions vary as to whether we miss the ability to smell. Some argue you can’t miss something you have never had. Others, myself included, do feel we miss something. Just as I believe a child from an abused family can very well miss the concept of love when playing in a friend’s loving home, I feel I miss something when watching the elation on people’s faces when they walk into a bakery or into a curry restaurant. I feel I miss an intensity of emotions, not only when it comes to eating but to living in general – a topic so wide it warrants a separate article.
A Lack of Cultural Sensitivity and Understanding
Anosmia is often dismissed (“Oh well, it’s better than being blind”) or not taken seriously (“Surely, you know when your clothes stink…”). A fellow anosmic recently explained that aromatic infusions just taste like warm water to her, to which she once got the response to steep the herbs longer, which – she commented – is like trying to get a blind person to see by using brighter lights. It is hard, if not impossible, to enjoy food when the pepper only burns your mouth or the gooey texture makes you want to puke. I am always grateful when my friends – who know that I am an anosmic – ask me what not to cook when I come over for dinner. Just like you’d adapt your dish for a guest with allergies, we greatly appreciate it if you do that for us too.