Smell, often characterized as our least evolved or most "base" sense, is often invoked in ethnocentrist and racist discourse intended to create barriers between groups. The offensive smells of a given group's foods are often cited as a reason why they must be kept out of a pre-existing community. This essay argues that the reasons for this phenomenon are rooted in our anxiety about smell itself: it represents a pathway through which the particles of food literally penetrate us: a point of vulnerability. By examining a range of cases, from that of the medieval "Jewish odor" to the modern smells of Indian cooking in middle American kitchens, this essay explores the persistent connection between food smells and inter-ethnic tension.
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