Sensory Roadblock: Unexpected Detriments and Benefits of Mask-wearing in Gathering Food and Information

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Sensory Roadblock: Unexpected Detriments and Benefits of Mask-wearing in Gathering Food and Information

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During the pandemic, I opted to order all of my groceries online to be delivered. I have never been much of a take-out person and mostly cook at home, so I really love to pick my ingredients when grocery shopping. Missing the in-store grocery shopping experience over the past few years, I sometimes go out to gather my fresh foods, especially after the normalizing of social distancing and mask regulations. Though I still prefer to wear a mask, even when regulations are occasionally loosened, a sensory occurrence that I did not expect to miss or lack as a consequence of mask-wearing is the importance of smell in my food-gathering habits. Being able to check the ingredients for both flavor and freshness qualities by smelling them is such a natural instinct that most lifeforms use to find their food. I never considered myself someone who actively smells things very often, so this sensory roadblock surprised me, as I initially chose to go to the store to get better foods than those that had been delivered to me. I have often come home and found that the asparagus or meat that I had just bought had that unpleasant odor of food past its prime, even though its appearance and texture seemed just perfect. I also miss being able to smell the full intensity of the fresh-cut flower bouquets that proclaim the seasons when going out grocery shopping.

This temporary lessening of sense-of-smell from wearing a mask has been a bit of a hinderance in such ways, but it has been beneficial in many others. For example, I have dust allergies and used to become very stuffy after visiting my library due to the book dust—especially since, as a history and art history graduate student, all the books that I want or need to check out are usually the oldest or dustiest ones! Not being able to smell or breathe-in these things has helped me dramatically in my experience of information gathering. I can now spend hours looking over books that I wouldn’t have thought of opening before and have found some wonderful sources for my research. Though of course many historical texts are fully available in online formats and an invaluable resource, I often feel the same way about visiting my library as I do visiting my grocery store—I hope to find something myself that might work even better for my own project, either culinarily or academically.

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This item was submitted on August 22, 2022 by Moss Rabbin using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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