I walk in my neighborhood every day, twice a day. After breakfast, which for me usually takes place around 6:30 a.m. And after dinner, so I am out on the road when most people will be fixing dinner, close to 12 hours after my breakfast time.
Dogs bark, cats scurry under beauty-berry bushes, people wave from a safe distance across the street.
And, like a shy maiden in medieval Spain, I cover my face with my mask when I encounter these few souls out and about.
One gloriously cool morning, the kind I pray for during the blistering steamy heat of a north Florida summer, I trudged past a house and something struck me as unusual: I smelled food cooking. The aroma of someone’s breakfast hung in the air. I sniffed, Bacon clearly, perhaps with pancakes on a griddle. Or maybe waffles.
It didn’t matter.
In this country, I practically never smell food aromas unless I’m cooking in my own kitchen, at a restaurant, or walking past my local Publix at around 11 a.m., when the deli fans pump out the maddeningly enticing aroma of Publix’s signature fried chicken.
But there’s another time when food aromas permeate the air. The fish counter at a grocery store reeks or a moldy orange lurks in a pile of navels in the produce section.
Otherwise food aromas tend to be scarce in American culture. This, mind you, is not a new observation on my part. I’ve noticed this ever since my first trip to Mexico at the age of 19. Ever since, from Mexico to Indonesia, Morocco to Paris and elsewhere, I’ve indulged in the glorious aromas of open-air markets.
So why the scarcity of food odors in this country?
Food odors in history, as it turns out, tend to be something worthy of academic study. Connie Y. Chiang writes of this in “The Nose Knows: The Sense of Smell in American History.” And Lauren Hinkle Janes also wrote about French attitudes toward the food of Others in ”Exotic Eating in Interwar Paris: Dealing with Disgust.”
And I recall a poster touting the reluctance to smell other people’s food when I took the London Underground to Kew Gardens.
Don’t forget the allusions to the odor of cabbage associated with tenements. Or the disdain for garlic so prevalent in American culture until quite recently. If recipes called for it, it usually meant 1 clove of garlic.
The smell of bacon and pancakes awoke something in me, and not just an appetite.
It reminded me of the Othering of Other People’s food, for one thing.
Do YOU smell anything cooking?