Amy Eddings' Food for Thought: Sun Chokes & Salt

We're talking about sun chokes this week, but my head and taste buds are still with salt, our topic in last week's Last Chance Foods.  Many have commented on artisanal salt seller Mark Bitterman's contention that the link between salt and hypertension are not as clear-cut as public health officials would like to have you believe.

Mark has read those comments and has a lengthy response that is too long to post.  We've provided a link to it below. But I'm using my blog to excerpt it for those of you who are like me: short on time and with the attention span of that cute dog in the animated movie, "Up."  ("Squirrel!")

Bitterman wants you to know he's not on Big Salt's payroll: "Artisan salt does not have a lobby, unless you consider our mom and pop business (The Meadow in the West Village) and a small handful of other gourmet salt specialists scattered around the world a Political Action Committee."

He, too, is against Big Salt.  He says it has "all but eradicated the production of salt at an artisan level." Remember, humans have been producing and consuming salt for centuries. We need it. It's an integral part of our diet. How integral?

"We extracted salt wherever we could — from salt springs, from sea shores, from mountain sides — and around these salt sources we built our homes," he writes, "and if you couldn't make it yourself, you made damn sure you could source it."

At times, he says, salt traded ounce for ounce with gold. 

New federal dietary guidelines recommend consuming just a teaspoon of salt a day.  Adults over 50 and African Americans should cut back to about two-thirds of a teaspoon. Yikes. I throw a handful — a handful — of salt into a big pot of water for pasta! 

But a close read of the dietary guidelines shows government officials recognize that not all salting is equal.  This is from page 21: "Salt added at the table and in cooking provides only a small proportion of the total sodium that Americans consume.  Most sodium comes from salt added during food processing."

And it's not just known salty foods, such as canned soups, condiments and cured meats. Our high salt intake is also due to the fact that we eat a lot of yeast breads. Pastries and sticky buns and contribute seven percent of the sodium in the U.S. diet. 

Here's what Mark Bitterman has to say: 

"Salt lovers like me and the fiercest enemies of sodium have much in common.  I support (however wearily) health programs that work to educate the public about the dangers of processed foods."  But he goes on to say he thinks such programs are "of limited value" if they "perpetuate underlying systemic problems with our foodways." 

In other words, it's not enough to eat processed food that has less salt in it. We must cut down on eating processed foods altogether.  We must get back into the kitchen, salt shaker in hand, and learn what it means to have truly flavorful food.