Just two days ago I was bemoaning the downside of March melting: the smells buried under months of snow suddenly uncovered. I woke up this morning to find that Minnesota happily solved my problem by dumping several more inches of white powder to cover it all up again (this is when I remind myself that I should be careful what I wish for).

What would the world be like if everything smelled like vanilla?

Six years ago, the New Yorker featured an article about a product called Odor Screen that would have solved my problem without me needing to bring out all the snow gear I’d just so carefully packed away. Odor Screen is a drug free gel that alters one’s perception of scents. As it says on its website, Odor Screen “provides the human olfactory pathway with a source of cross-adapting odorants, thereby altering perception of the malodor.” It is specifically marketed toward military, medical and service professionals who must encounter smells on a daily basis that could induce nausea, depression, loss of appetite, etc. The American version contains vanilla, which is supposed to relieve stress and bring about a feeling of relaxation (there were plans, at least at the time of the New York article, to market the same product in Asian countries with a green tea smell so as to be culturally specific).

The man who tested out Odor Screen in the New Yorker article visited those places in New York that are particularly pungent, such as the Fulton Fish Market and underneath the Manhattan Bridge. To his delight, instead of smelling fish, garbage, and stagnant water, all he could smell was vanilla.

It’s an interesting idea that, instead of trying to make the world around you smell better, you can just alter your nose to perceive it as pleasant. Certainly our noses help us avoid danger when we smell something off, but I’m sure there will be many times this spring when I’d prefer the scent of vanilla to the sour grass. Looking outside, I wish this Minnesota white-out was a vanilla-out instead. Excuse me while I go shovel…

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