In April, the Institute of Medicine published a study concluding that salt poses so serious a health hazard that the FDA should start regulating it as a food additive.
Last week, Mitchell Moss produced a lengthy piece in the New York Times, “The hard sell on salt,” detailing the food industry’s resistance to salt reduction:
The industry is working overtly and behind the scenes to fend off these attacks, using a shifting set of tactics that have defeated similar efforts for 30 years, records and interviews show. Industry insiders call the strategy “delay and divert” and say companies have a powerful incentive to fight back: they crave salt as a low-cost way to create tastes and textures. Doing without it risks losing customers, and replacing it with more expensive ingredients risks losing profits.
Now we have Judith Shulevitz’s piece in The New Republic, “Is salt the new crack?” She concludes:
We need to stop ingesting all these substances in ludicrous amounts…We need to be taught not just what’s in processed food, but how historically anomalous its manufacture and our consumption of it are. We need to understand the mechanisms that addict us to it. We need to relearn how to prepare real meals, and we need to start rethinking the social dynamics of that chore (it can’t just be up to wives and mothers anymore). It’s pretty hard to imagine the government conducting that education campaign, but, 20 years ago, it may have been just as hard to imagine the “truth campaign” that exposed the tobacco industry’s marketing techniques and the transformation of social norms that made it déclassé to smoke.
As I keep saying (see previous posts), the salt issue is one of personal choice. If I want to eat less salt, I cannot eat processed foods or restaurant foods because that’s where 80% of the salt in American diets comes from. As Moss explains, PepsiCo cannot make Cheetos without salt. I can just say no to Cheetos, but eating out is a challenge.
No, salt is not the new crack, but I’m glad that changing food social norms is becoming part of the national conversation.