They are easy to spot: those with poor sight wear glasses; those with poor hearing wear hearing aids. But no such distinguishing feature allows those of us with a poor sense of smell to find one another.
When I discovered this symptom in myself, my instinct, as with everything, was to tell anyone who would listen. I soon learned though confiding in the olfactory-abled just made me feel lonely. They tend to respond with a mix of pity and confusion. The first question is always, “So you can’t taste?” Well, I think I can taste; I have only ever tasted with this one mouth, so it’s hard to say. But it’s too late—the blankness of their stare tells me they are thinking back on all the meals we had together, or worse, meals I ate at their house, and wondering if I appreciated them at all. In the land of the smelling, the no-nosed man is a beggar.
The smellers planted doubt in me. When I go out to eat with friends, am I missing out on a sensory joy they all share? Are they all appreciating the "oakiness" of a Cabernet without me? Was it actually worth it for them to stand in that interminable line to try the new vegan ice cream shop?
Perhaps. Or perhaps food is only made good by the conversation that comes with it. Who enjoys themselves more—three friends eating Whoppers or a man eating Kobayashi beef alone? Our love of food may be tied to our love of each other.
Last week I went out to hot pot with an old friend. The conversation came around to Sriracha and I confessed that I use it to excess to compensate for my weak sense of smell. Lo and behold, this friend, who I have known my whole life, had the same affliction! We spent the evening commiserating and bad-mouthing those who don’t understand the struggle. It was the best damn hot pot I’ve ever had.