A Nation of Saltaholics


At the age of 12, I joined “the working class” as a weekend popcorn boy behind the concession stand at my showman father’s movie palace in Jacksonville, Illinois. The corn was popped fresh before every feature break and dad taught me to promote sales by aiming the alluring aroma towards the auditorium with a pair of huge lobby fans. Back then the price of a small bag with a coke plus a box of chewy sweet jujubes or milk duds came to about 35-cents (which was about what I cleared per hour), while a barrel of popcorn plenty big enough to sate a family of four went for 50-cents.  Some oily, melted substance dubbed as “hot buttery topping” cost an extra nickel, while all the salt you could shake was free. Shake it on they did, and shake it onto nearly everything Americans devour do we continue to do. Face it friends, we’re a nation of “saltaholics.”
Like most impressionable folks, I can be influenced by appetizing TV commercials (which is how I got sucked into visiting the Olive Garden). TV spots display happy people feasting on Hamburger Helper classic stroganoff with its magical envelopes of pasta and naturally flavored creamy sauce. All you cook is a skillet of hamburger, add some water and milk then stir in the sauce mix—and there’s the rub. More than a third of the flavoring is sodium (i.e. salt). After two tastes, my quick dinner treat went to the garbage pale. There must’ve been a quarter’s worth of perfectly good noodles in that box but the mix turned lean ground round into a virtual pillar of salt.
Restaurants are not above salty sins. Just a couple of dining out meals ago I was obliged to send back over-salted French fries and green beans at a popular Valley steakhouse. The irony is that there’s invariably a salt shaker on every table or counter so the kitchen need not pour it on before serving. Sure, salt is cheap and plentiful but it’s not the sole solution for flavor. There are numerous more healthful, natural herbs and spice enhancements. Take a bit of thyme, add a sprinkle of parsley, just a shot of wine vinegar, sauté chopped red onion, stir in a glob of sour cream, a melted soupcon of sweet, unsalted butter, generous slices of garlic plus a dash of coarse pepper for good measure, add just a pinch of sea salt and pro or novice, you’ve got it made.
Statistically the average American male consumes 8 pounds of salt annually, which is more than twice the recommended amount. Too much sodium leads to high blood pressure, cardiac complications and… you get the idea. The benefit of cutting down on salt can save 13% of affected lives—about the same result as kicking a nicotine habit but so much easier to do. Even the leading makers of canned soups have begun eliminating MSG and are limiting salt levels in their products.
Perhaps the most promising news is that researchers report that, once people consume less salt, they actually come to prefer way less salt. I know because I didn’t but now I definitely do.
New York City and other locales have officially called on restaurants to cut kitchen salt use by one-quarter. Such regulations are noxious and hard to enforce. Common sense is the ticket to a longer, healthier life… Join the growing rank of “thinking foodies” and pass on the salt!

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The Curious Palate

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