Molly Birnbaum had a great deal of potential as a chef, and had plans to go to a prestigious culinary school to fulfill her passion for cooking. This dream was put on hold by a car accident, resulting in a head injury that caused her to lose her sense of smell. Scent is critical to a human’s ability to taste, and so this is one of the worst things that could have happened to a young person whose love is the making and eating of food.
Season to Taste is the account of Ms. Birnbaum’s recovery from her accident, and her attempts to recover from her inability to smell. She visits many experts on the subject in order to understand the causes and possible solutions to her problem.
To combat her helplessness in the face of her disability, she throws herself into a quest for answers, determined to find her way back to scent. She fends off depression as best as she can by seeking out others with the same affliction, finding a sort of community of people who understand each other’s suffering.
At times, this memoir felt more like investigative journalism. I preferred it when the author wrote of the ways in which losing her sense of smell affected her personal life, but she put a lot of research into this book and it is full of truly fascinating information. I cannot fault her for including facts and hunting down pertinent studies. Readers will come away from this book with a much fuller understanding of the existing science surrounding olfaction.
I have certainly found myself thinking a great deal more about odors and scents during and after reading this book. There is more to it than I realized, and I was quite intrigued by the intricacies behind creating fragrances. I am tempted to start wearing perfume again because of all that I learned about it.
Reading Season to Taste has given me much to think about in terms of learned responses to certain smells, and the possibility of training the nose (or the brain) to recognize and distinguish between an astounding array of substances. Not much is actually known about scent in comparison with the other senses, but this book is a great crash course in the knowledge currently available.
If you go into the book with the expectation of learning a great deal, you will not be disappointed. It is also a good story about determination and optimism, as it is the author’s true tale of overcoming a huge personal obstacle. Molly Birnbaum brings to light all the many surprising ways in which scent affects our existence – safety, relationships, and memories are just a few of the aspects that are severely impacted by the absence of smell. Season to Taste is truly an enlightening and worthwhile book.