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DARE TO ASK: Can whites be ‘smelly’ like a deli?



Where did the statement “white people smell like bologna” originate?

S. May, 38, white female, Toronto


It most likely has to do with diet. For instance, Italians (of which I’m one) have a tendency to smell like garlic because there is a lot of garlic in our food.

Dave L., 31, New York

White people do have a “lunch meat” smell when they haven’t bathed or are sweating heavily. When I’m in the gym with black friends, the difference in smell is noticeable.

Brian, 26, white, Indiana

I never noticed whites have a smell. I do know blacks have a smell I can’t seem to place. I notice it from other blacks when they sweat or don’t bathe.

Cedric, 28, black, Jersey City, NJ.

When backpacking, my own odor changes after a few weeks on a low-meat, high-cheese diet – to a sour smell, like old yogurt.

Butterfly, 30 female, Belgium

Experts say

Note to non-white people: A comparison to prosciutto (drizzled with a bit of balsamic vinegar and aged olive oil) would be much preferred to some ho-hum, processed mixture of pulverized meat and meat by-products.

The bologna thing apparently came up in the Wayans brothers’ 1992 comedy-action flick Mo’ Money, and we debated renting it just to make sure. But why waste time when it’s such a bland expression, anyway, and sidesteps the much spicier and well-known “white people smell like wet dogs” analogy?

Here’s what people in the know about smelly things have to say:

— Pulitzer Prize-winning author David K. Shipler, who wrote A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America (Knopf): People use various ways to describe other races as unclean, etc. “It’s typical in the panoply of images between racial, ethnic, national and religious groups to include lack of cleanliness and subhuman, animal analogies,” he says.

— Jerome Z. Litt, body-odor researcher at Case Western Reserve University: People get “nose fatigue” – their nose gets used to odors of people from their own race while at the same time is sensitive to smells of people from a different cultural group. “When it comes to body odor, it’s in the nose of the beholder.”

— George Preti, body-odor expert at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia: While strong spices like curry and cumin might add to body odor, that hasn’t been proven, and nothing points to meats adding to body odor. Also, while whites and African-Americans have more bacteria-producing armpit glands than Asians, “It’s been pretty well demonstrated that everybody on the planet probably produces a similar group of underarm odors.”

Pimento loaf, anyone?

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