Sunday, May 30, 2010


Salt Collecting, Peru

Photograph by Dordo Brnobic for National Geographic.

Jane cued me into an outstanding article on salt in food in today's NY Times which I hadn't gotten to yet. It's utterly fascinating. This article shows exactly why we should treasure small local food production companies who take care with their products, and those chefs who can make a masterpiece with little or no salt by employing subtle seasoning and interesting textures and flavours that never leave you wanting for the easy fix of salt. I'm salt-sensitive, as is most of my maternal family. And on the paternal side, my stepmother, as fit as a fiddle, suffers from high blood pressure that has been correlated directly to her salt consumption. I was raised in an environment in which salt, if not exactly reviled, was held suspect as the easy fix of a bad chef.

Processed foods are clearly the bad guys in the salt scene. Today's NY Times has this astonishing graphic in which a so-called healthy choice frozen meal (resplendent in its healthy green packaging) contains 25% of your daily requirement of sodium in one shot:

(Image copyright: The New York Times, 2010)

Processed foods have an astonishing amount of salt. According to figures in the NY Times article, the Department of Agriculture has reported, and processed foods, along with restaurant meals, now account for roughly 80 percent of the salt in the American diet. They cite the fact that a single 150 calorie can of Campbell's condensed chicken noodle soup exceeds the recommended daily amount of sodium for an adult. A single can. The Institute of Medicine has called for a federal mandate (a la the FDA) to regulate and limit salt content in foods. NYC's Mayor Bloomberg has also tried to incite interest in a 25% reduction in salt content in fast food served in NYC by 2014. But resistance is tremendous.

Processed food manufacturers are blaming you, the consumer for the US love affair with salt. It's your fault that you can't taste over-cooked carrots and peas properly without salt. It's your fault that you prefer salt over rosemary, thyme or basil. It's your fault that paprika or saffron are so damn expensive and subtle.

One of the best meals I've had in recent times was prepared by the le Chef de chez moi with no gluten, no casein or whey, no soy, no egg and hardly any salt. (For those not in the know, I have really serious celiac disease- gluten intolerance- and also can't tolerate some related proteins like casein and soya.) It was delicious and le Chef trained at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park and used quality ingredients selected with care and cooked to perfection. Ingredients I bought and paid for. So I've got this huge advantage that your average person out there doesn't have.

I can afford to not eat processed food.

Hey, did I mention I have health insurance with prescription drug benefits, too?

So anyway, I'm reading this article thinking the very people who can't afford to eat anything other than over-salted fast or processed foods are likely the people who don't have health insurance that will care for them when they have hypertension-related health problems.

But we hope that the present administration has fixed that healthcare thing. A whole lot better than they were going to fix that off-shore drilling thing. Right? Right?

And about that off-shore drilling thing, I'm just so discouraged by it (you know robots are up next, right?) . There was this übercheerful article this afternoon in the Washington Post that Jane also sent me. You know, about how we have to basically wait for the relief wells.

Yeah, I think I'll just settle down and watch that Rachel Maddow footage a few more times. Gosh knows, someone ought to. Because Transocean, BP and everybody else sure isn't. Or if they did, they kind of missed the take home message there.

BTW, putting my money where my mouth is, today I put down my $99 on reserving a Nissan Leaf. I'm going to go with the seemingly (though I'm sure FPL can find some way to feck that up, too) safer nuclear-powered electric zero-emissions car.

Next up in my Memorial Day cheerfest: Exxon/Mobil, Nigeria and fifteen years after the death of Ken Sara-Wiwa.


  1. Isn't it fascinating that salt used to be such a prized commodity that it was used as currency?

    Personally, I think Mayor Bloomberg spent his political capital on that a-hole calorie posting law (which I am totally against, as you know - or if you didn't know, as you figured out from me calling it "that a-hole calorie posting law"). A reduction in salt at fast food franchises would do MUCH more to alleviate at least some of the health problems facing many communities, but no, Bloomberg has to slap up calorie counts at restaurants where many patrons aren't in a position to pay for lower-calorie, less-processed foods anyway. Gee, removing some of the salt full-stop is SO less important than posting information people will ignore because they want to or have to anyway...

    Sorry, Bloomberg really gets me going.

  2. Well, shucks, CN... you wanted politicians to do something really useful instead of something that would just garner media attention? What kind of cynical *are* you? :)