“Sweetheart, does this smell OK to you?” said I standing before the open refrigerator contemplating the edibility of a container of left-over casserole, the date of original creation thereof had eluded me. Trusting to my wife’s much keener sense of smell than my own, I can confidently make the determination whether to eat said casserole or chuck it in the bin.
Relying on smell to determine what is safe from what may be harmful is a particularly useful age-old trick. As Professor Melanie Kiechle explains in her recently published book Smell Detectives; An Olfactory History of Nineteenth-Century Urban America, using this very same manner of judgement helped the people of that time and place to improve both the quality and healthfulness of their society by following their noses to the most noxious odors common to the age in order to eliminate them – and thus quite often the dangers to health and safety their sources often caused.
From the publishers description of the book, it sounds like quite a fascinating bit of history indeed. I’m looking forward to getting my nose stuck into it very soon.