Newcastle — I find it particularly interesting that in our food fetish culture of today we consider salt a harmful addition to our diet. What was once treasured as the most valuable compound on earth is now often eschewed and discredited, never mind that it is absolutely essential to good health.
In antiquity salt was precious because it was hard to come by, available only from dried up salt licks or shallow caverns. Fracking was not an available option. According to an article in TIME, as early as the 6th century, in the sub-Sahara, Moorish merchants routinely traded salt ounce for ounce for gold. As civilization grew and spread, salt became a widely traded commodity. Salt routes covered the earth. Governments levied taxes on salt (of course).
One of the busiest routes to ancient Rome was the Via Salaria, the salt route A Roman soldier's pay consisted in part of salt, which is the origin of the English word salary. Should the soldier be derelict, he was “not worth his salt.” Many of our words, including the title of this piece, are cognates of the Roman “sal.”
As a rare and wondrous thing salt infiltrated religion. Again quoting the TIME article: “Its use in Hebrew sacrifices as a meat purifier came to signify the eternal covenant between God and Israel.” The Christian liturgy is a bit more confused. In the Christian catechism, salt is a metaphor for the grace and wisdom of Christ. Yet when Lot’s wife glanced back at Sodom she was turned into a pillar of salt for her infidelity. This was retribution? You’ll have to ask the suddenly enriched Lot.
Salt is also featured in religion’s first cousin, superstition. “The spilling of salt was considered ominous, a portent of doom. (In Leonardo da Vinci's painting The Last Supper, the scowling Judas is shown with an overturned saltcellar in front of him.)” (ibid.) Perhaps you still toss a pinch over your left shoulder after spilling the precious commodity. In Islam, some claim the effectiveness of salt in removing the evil eye.
Returning to the modern, excessive salt consumption is said to contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Balderdash. Sounds to me like a Frito-chomping, couch potato cop out. Get off your duff and exercise.
Exercise causes sweat. Sweat contains salt. Are we trying to get rid of our body’s salt? Is this why some feel we should ingest less salt? No, sweating is a way of reducing body heat through evapotranspiration. Salt is a catalyst in getting water to the skin via the sweat glands. After initiating the process at the cell level, salt is actually removed from the sweat as it passes to the surface. Our body would like to keep the salt. OK! But salt impedes evaporation. That’s why clothes on the line don’t dry well near the ocean. The sweat system does not seem to me to be well designed. I must be missing something.
Tears are salty. That’s because all body fluids contain salt. Also, salt is a natural bacteria killer and tears are mainly to clean the eyes. Of course we cry for emotional reasons as well; many, many reasons. I have read that some people cry when they defecate. Pooping makes you sad? Sometimes I think everything makes you sad.
Isn’t it a bit curious that two absolutely essential ingredients for our living, salt and water, should be indigestible when mixed together? How did this happen? Curious planning by the creator.