What’s that smell? It’s the past, of course

I’ve said it before in this column and I’ll say it again — those Europeans are a funny bunch.

We’ve spilled quite a bit of ink lately writing about the European Union’s refusal to recognize basic science when it comes to agricultural production, whether it be genetic modification, glyphosate or growth hormone use in cattle.

Recently we’ve focused on the bloc’s Farm to Fork Strategy, which some wags have taken to calling the Farm to Empty Fork Strategy because of what it would mean for food production on the continent if the EU actually carried through with its plans to slash pesticide use and significantly increase organic food production.

And now there’s this. The EU is funding a $3.3 million three-year project to figure out what Europe smelled like hundreds of years ago.

That’s right — they plan to use computers to analyze thousands of publications such as medical textbooks, novels and magazines from the 1500s to the early 1900s, looking for references to what their ancestors smelled (and perhaps even what they smelled like).

And it’s not just the good odours that they’re interested in, such as home cooking and incense. They’re also interested in the less-pleasant scents, such as dung (both animal and otherwise) and industrial waste.

The idea is to eventually re-create these smells and introduce them into museum exhibits and classrooms in order to facilitate a more open discussion about — well, I’m not exactly sure.

I couldn’t help imagining the Canadian government deciding to dust off this project in a couple hundred years and focusing on the early 21st century on the Prairies. What would that look like?

Let me set the stage as we prepare to tour the olfactory wing of the Western Canadian History Museum in, let’s say, Swift Current, Sask., in, let’s say, the year 2220.

“On your left,” intones the little flying robot humming along in front of our group, “you will notice a burning smell that historians believe originated from the piles of non-medical cloth masks that were incinerated by the thousands in bonfires across the region in the months immediately following the Great COVID-19 Catastrophe of 2020-21.

“The discerning nose might also detect a hint of relief, for which there are many theories but is now generally thought to have been caused by the return of the Canadian Football League in the summer of 2021.

“On your right….”

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