Keynote Liveblog: Molly Birnbaum Interview



United States

Welcome to the BlogHer Food '11 liveblog of the keynote interview Jory Des Jardins in Conversation with Molly Birnbaum.
jdj: introduction of birnbaum and her book How I LOST MY SENSE OF SMELL...

mb: started blog 6 year ago obsessed with food. worked with chef tony moss/boston. smells and aroma....2005 hit by car on way to job interview - cracked skull. severing the olfactory nerves loosing sense of smell. was devastating and started blogging about the loss of smell and how it was impacting my love of food and cooking. one scent at a time my sense of smell is returning over the past 6 years starting with rosemary. this period led me to write a book about the connotations of the loss.

jdj: this book is also a memoir? you abandoned your career to begin a journey..what were you thinking at that point?

mb; knew i couldnt cook or eat in the way everyone else around me - was struck by how powerful the sense of smell was in my life. in trying to discover the answer to questions about this sense of loss.

jdj: book read like "like water for chocolate." it involved so many other senses. you discovered how you could cook with your other senses.

mb: cooking is so about the act of bringing people together - I concentrated on my other senses...sounds of sizzling meat, how the presentation looked, how foods looked while cooking, etc.

jdj: Molly is now an editor at america's test kitchen.

jdj: I have a friend who lost movement in an accident this actually accentuated his ability to command an audience...did you experience the same thing?

mb: before i lost sense of smelll = i didn't realize how all the senses worked together.

jdj: the heart of memories can fly away...quote from book...memory and smell or so tightly linked...speak more?

mb: i named my blog - my madeline - so intrigued with the connection be tween taste and memory. we have all had the experiences of an unexpected smell that brings up back to our past. that doesn't happen with the other senses. the loss of emotion with the loss of sense of smell was devastating for me. ex: used to watch scary movies and eat chips and salsa - for many years the smell of salsa reminded me of being afraid and happy at the same time. after the loss, when opening a jar of salsa and not having the memory triggered made me wonder is i was loosing my ability to make new memories.

jdj: There is a story in the book about cologne used by man you dated - you did not know he wore cologne every day.

mb: yes, it was shocking to know that i had no idea

jdj: what were your memories at that point

mb: specific memories were hard - it was like watching a b/w movie rather than one in color. My memories are muted and dulled from that time.

jgj: is that a community for people challenged with olfactory losses....nausnea (meaning::) what were people you interacting with handle this loss

mb: philly taste and smell clinic center - 1-2% under 65 cannot smell. there is no cure for the loss of sense of smell. i am unique in that i have begun to regain this sense. many people suffer with depression and anxiety due to this loss of smell.

jgj: tell about oliver sacks

mb: i sent him a letter thinking that he could cure me - he couldn t but he did open up a world of how to live in this world with the loss of a sense. he is suffering from a gradual loss of he had great insights.

jgj: encourages audience participation q and a sense of guilt of priviledge

mb: during college i was able to spend time in africa and was very humbled - the culture surrounding food in the village was intense. so many things centered around food. in contrast to a trip to italy where everything seemed to be in excess by comparison.

jgj: after you acc'dent you still had to cook - what happened

mb: no matter what you cook - it s the story behind it and the being in the moment - regardless of the loss of smell.

jgj: could you share more about cultural differences between boston and nyc

mb: nyc is very exciting place to be - boston moves a little bit slower. i went to nyc to escape boston and this loss i had experienced - so moving to nyc without a plan seemed to provide the escape. in my blog i wrote about the loss...not a traditional blog to book deal...always used writing as a way to understand what goes on around me. i blog because i write. when this was turned into a book proposal the blog was a wonderful resource.

jgj: what roll did the blog play?

mb: in general - it was a reference. i still blog today as a way to write about what is going on with my life - now about the book experience - blog helps me process my world.

jgj: book is a punctuation?

mb: the book would be a strange end of things

jgj: grant achatz played a role in book.

mb: uses smell in his cooking and i was fascinated with that. grant had a similar sense of loss - taste - due to cancer. we had similar experiences so i wanted to include him in the book.

jgj: flavor chemist: manipulation of flavor in good and bad ways

mb: spent time with FC chef/perfumer/chemist combo...they may created non-natural flavors but those can still trigger memories (ie coca cola) FC have been compared to ghostwriters.

jgj: science journal/travel log interesting characters encountered?

mb: man who lost sense of smell - he recalled dead flesh as his first recalled sense of smell. lighter note: met perfumers who are very into their art - opera of smell instead of music...met through sacks. SCENT OF DESIRE (book) by rachel herz: research on emotion and smell connection. the area of brain that processes emotion and smell are very near one anther. many who suffer from a loss of smell seem to suffer from depression - on the other hand, people who suffer from depression often suffer a loss of smell.

jgj: can emotions lead to smells

mb: hard to say. when i was regaining my sense of smell - when i was happy, the regaining was stronger, clearer, faster

jgj: as a result were your other senses heightened

mb: absolutely

audquest: how did friends family support -

mb: difficult so many other things were initially involved in the injuries - later on the loss of smell was hard for me to describe and hard for others to understand. it is very intimate, very invisible, very blank hard to put into words.

jgj: what is next for you cooking? writing?
mb: ideally do both - i don't know. the book was a journey and i hope i have the opportunity to continue the journey. jgj: thank you so much.

Liveblogger: Sara Anne Gibson