De Souza, R. (2017). I Smell You, Life Matters, Radio National, Australia. Thursday 14 September 2017.
The wonderful Masako Fukui from Life Matters interviewed me for this story about olfactory assimilation.
I am a committed foodie, ‘somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry’ (Johnston & Baumann, 2010, 61) who is also interested in the politics of food. In particular, the politics of food in public spaces like public transport and hospitals.
I am interested in the ways in which admission into western medical health services requires assimilation into a distinct patient subculture. This coercive incorporation and relinquishment of clothing and belongings is accompanied by the loss of autonomy over everyday activities and routines, which is ceded to health professionals and institutional processes. From being a socially integrated member of a community, the person within the dominant mode of biomedicine is reduced to being an individual, then a physical body or parts. The person becomes an object who receives care.
Food is more than sustenance and nutrition, it has social, cultural and symbolic meanings which structure not only our daily lives, but also life transitions such as maternity. Food represents an arena where powerful values and beliefs about being a human are evident. Food practices also demarcate cultural boundaries of belonging and not belonging. Forthcoming: De Souza, R. (in press). Going Without: Migrant Mothers, Food and the Postnatal Ward in New Zealand. In F. Guignard and T. Cassidy (Eds.), Moving Meals and Migrant Mothers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Check out Masako Fukui’s great piece in ABC News: Is our dislike of ‘smelly’ food actually cultural intolerance?
Fish is OK, as long as it isn’t pungent. Curry is nice, as long as the spices don’t cling to the curtains. Kimchi is healthy, as long as the fermented garlic doesn’t linger on the train.
But for the migrant who feels displaced from their homeland, foods that olfactorily offend may play an important role in reinforcing identity, Dr De Souza says.
She says cooking and eating a beautiful curry is akin to “putting lotion on the part of me that feels dislocated, lonely, and isolated”. But that same curry can reek of spices that ultimately isolate her by making her smell different, even invoking disgust.