from the world's big
Are you wearing deodorant while sheltering at home?
Humans are woefully unaware of their olfactory sense. That's the reality we've been sold.
- Scent provides valuable information about personality traits and attractiveness.
- Since the 1920s, companies have made us anxious about our odor in order to sell us their products.
- Our disdain of personal smell is related to our fear of aging and death.
With so many of our regular habits upended over the past six weeks, I held an informal poll on my social media channels asking who had quit wearing deodorant. As you can imagine, responses were varied. Some people include deodorant along with make-up as part of the "stay sane by keeping to your routine" routine. Others admitted they haven't showered in days. A few people stopped and then started because they offended themselves. Of course, living with others requires a different set of responsibilities.
While this might strike some as an odd question, deodorizing is a relatively new phenomenon. Cultures have long had various cleansing rituals, yet often they only dealt with parts of the body viewable outside of their clothing. Myths long persisted about the validity of soap. In fact, it was believed that cleaning your skin led to disease.
Religions often seek to differentiate themselves from the pack. Whereas ritualistic cleaning has long been part of Judaism and Islam, early Christians strove for alousia, "the state of being unwashed," writes Canadian author Katherine Ashenburg in "The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History." Calling someone of another race, religion, or caste "dirty" is an insult. For many centuries, this was particularly true of Christians—a goal, not a bad habit.
Ashenburg's book has been in my wife's library for years. She only recently read it as the hand washing furor began, prompting me to follow suit. While the hands and sometimes face (though not teeth—Americans still reign in super-white enamel) have long been washed, Ashenburg notes that medieval Christians believed that "blocked pores…sealed the body off from infection." Beyond baptism, many never bathed once in their entire lifetimes.
While Ashenburg's book is filled with historical factoids—Napoleon implored Josephine not to wash for a day before his return so he could drink in her scent—in the last two chapters she focuses on the flip side of cleanliness: how marketing has made us mad about purity.
Dr. Stuart Firestein: The Limits of Our Sense of Smell
Ashenburg's book begins in the Roman bathhouses. She traces cleanliness rituals throughout time in that context. With the introduction of germ theory, it slowly dawned on Europeans and Americans—while the book is global, she mostly focuses on these geographical regions—that blocked pores were not doing much good in keeping disease away. As the Age of Industry commenced, workers packed into warehouses and on shipping docks began noticing their co-workers' scents. A new industry was born.
Two, in fact. As Ashenburg writes, "toilet soap and advertising grew up together." Both had long existed, but with the introduction of germ theory into the popular vernacular, these strange bedfellows united. The race to sell began. As everyone now knows, if you can corner a new market, you'll make bank.
Such was the case when Lambert Pharmaceutical's president, Gerald Lambert, picked out "halitosis" from his chemists' list. He wanted to aggressively market one of his company's oral antiseptics. For the next five years, Listerine's ads were devoted to defining halitosis, telling prospective customers that failed job offers and divorce are due to bad breath. The ploy worked. In 1921, Listerine brought in $115,000 in sales. Seven years later it topped $8 million.
Around the same time, a copywriter named James Webb pumped out ads for his employer, J. Walter Thompson, claiming that women's armpits stunk. He lost a lot of dates. Yet within a year of that campaign, his client, Odorono—say it aloud—watched their profits increase by 112 percent. As Ashenburg writes,
"The success of the Odorono ad and the deluge of deodorant advertisements that followed say much about the decade's willingness to broach taboo subjects and its growing intolerance of secretions and smells."
Associate Brand Director of P&G's Secret Deodorant Sara Saunders speaks onstage during The 2020 MAKERS Conference on February 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MAKERS
By 1932, the American author, Sophia Hadida, made a big splash with her book on manners. She coined a new term, Body Odor, which has been embraced as B.O. ever since. An entire market opened up for deodorants, soaps, perfumes, and men's and women's grooming products, all designed to maximize profit thanks to our growing anxiety.
Which is why I asked that question on social media. Among animals, humans have a woefully poor sense of smell. As bipeds, we began relying on sight and touch while neglecting our olfactory skills. As such, we've evolved with 20 million smell receptors. Not bad, until you consider that your dog has 11 times that number. Smell still guides our life in many ways, including the lovers we choose and the business partners we trust.
This is a different sensibility than the marketing blitz that began a century ago. Smell informs. Disguising or erasing your scent does the opposite. Thanks to the anxiety peddled by companies pushing their products, we've decided it's better to remain ignorant. With that, we've lost a lot of data about our world.
Aging is one particularly problematic smell to some. Researchers have long worked on ridding us of this burden. Yet aging shouldn't be seen as a burden. In fact, the insane idea that sacrificing our eldest for the sake of the economy is good stems from a longtime existential distress regarding aging and death. Our smell changes as we age, sure, which is called biology. It's useful information, such as assessing personality traits and detecting immune system capabilities.
While everyone smells, women have been especially affected by this marketing phenomenon. Women generally have a better olfactory sense than men, but that comes at a cost. For example, Ashenburg writes that the sexual revolution of the sixties was especially confusing thanks to an advertising rush of feminine hygiene products.
"Sex is natural and wonderful, but the 'natural you' needs to be sprayed to be wonderful. Sex is natural and wonderful, but it leaves a woman in urgent need of washing, powdering, spraying, and douching. Sex is natural and wonderful, but it means that you can be rejected on the most intimate level."
There is no easy response to this dilemma. Sitting next to someone of a particular odor on a plane is not enjoyable. Social mores still matter. But we have to wonder why we cover up or disguise our scent so often. It provides valuable information, but more importantly, it's who we are.
- The Importance of Olfaction Beyond Smell - Big Think ›
- People with a keener sense of smell find sex more pleasant and, if ... ›
- A new perfume can help you smell like an astronaut - Big Think ›
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.
- The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
- Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
- The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Seriously sustainable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDIzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjM4NTMzMX0.BCEfYnn6C3z1zUHIS38xOWjXktgamNBi5iyqklSMYK8/img.png?width=980" id="ea524" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="50533380eeb18eb5833b6b6aa3abec38" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90356326/we-have-the-tech-to-suck-co2-from-the-air-but-can-it-suck-enough-to-make-a-difference" target="_blank">carbon-capture technology</a>, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner <a href="https://www.fortum.com" target="_blank">Fortum</a> to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.</p><p>When the company claims its single-celled protein is "free from agricultural limitations," they're not kidding. Being produced indoors means Solar Foods is not dependent on arable land, water (i.e., rain), or favorable weather.</p><p>The company is already working with the European Space Agency to develop foods for off-planet production and consumption. (The idea for Solein actually began at NASA.) They also see potential in bringing protein production to areas whose climate or ground conditions make conventional agriculture impossible.</p><p>And let's not forget all those <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">beef-free burgers</a> based on pea and soy proteins currently gaining popularity. The environmental challenge of scaling up the supply of those plants to meet their high demand may provide an opening for the completely renewable Solein — the company could provide companies that produce animal-free "meats," such as <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">Beyond Meat</a> and <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a>, a way to further reduce their environmental impact.</p>
The larger promise<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDI0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU4MTg2OX0.7dZZYT5WEV_EupBuLVFwHynarTiz8RYR9aJtC6Ts2C4/img.jpg?width=980" id="3415d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e6eebe06d795f844752f9e9d30040d7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>The impact of the beef — and for that matter, poultry, pork, and fish — industries on our planet is widely recognized as one of the main drivers behind climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and antibiotic-resistant illness. From the cutting down of rainforests for cattle-grazing land, to runoff from factory farming of livestock and plants, to the disruption of the marine food chain, to the overuse of antibiotics in food animals, it's been disastrous.</p><p>The advent of a promising source of protein derived from two of the most renewable things we have, CO₂ and sunlight, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/environmental-impact/" target="_blank">gets us out of the planet-destruction business</a> at the same time as it offers the promise of a stable, long-term solution to one of the world's most fundamental nutritional needs.</p>
Solar Foods' timetable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MTEzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTU1OTMwMn0.wnXh56iO_77x2XKV2uIPf78BKw4AJLUpmiyq_JBVGvo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=172%2C146%2C62%2C135&height=700" id="0297c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="125c9a98ec818f5c241fa28ef1423e67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Lubsan / Shutterstock / Big Think<p>While company plans are always moderated by unforeseen events — including the availability of sufficient funding — Solar Foods plans a global commercial rollout for Solein in 2021 and to be producing two million meals annually, with a revenue of $800 million to $1.2 billion by 2023. By 2050, they hope to be providing sustenance to 9 billion people as part of a $500 billion protein market.</p><p>The project began in 2018, and this year, they anticipate achieving three things: Launching Solein (check), beginning the approval process certifying its safety as a Novel Food in the EU, and publishing plans for a 1,000-metric ton-per-year factory capable of producing 500 million meals annually.</p>
The protein powder Solein. Image source: SOLAR FOODS
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