Frequently at the restaurant, a guest will comment that he thought he hated eggplant or that she never ate broccoli, but that they loved these foods when I prepared them. I’ve recently written a kind of manifesto on and defense of salt, but there’s another aspect of the issue that I neglected to include: paradoxically, salting our food correctly actually encourages us to eat healthier foods and smaller portions.
Vegetables are especially insipid when not seasoned and cooked correctly. Many people would eat far more vegetables if they were prepared far more deliciously, and this requires proper seasoning. The reason processed foods are so popular is that they are well seasoned and people crave salt, even if they don’t know why. Why waste our salt on nasty processed foods when we can use it on healthy foods and actually consume nutrient-dense foods while we’re enjoying the delight of flavor?
As for smaller portions, think back to your college dining hall. I know that some are better now, but in my day the food was abundant but bland and lacking freshness. When food is bland and lacking freshness, I find that WE ACTUALLY EAT MORE in a futile search to find satisfaction which isn’t there. By contrast, when we have really delicious food, less is enough because it satisfies us almost immediately. Less is more.
I think a shift in thinking about salt would perhaps go furthest among those who struggle with poverty or obesity for both of the reasons discussed. If we want people to eat less and to eat healthier foods, we need to educate and encourage them to salt courageously so that their food is both healthy and delicious. Ditto in schools. Why do so many kids in school dislike the new healthy school lunch mandates which Michelle Obama has been instrumental in promoting? Because healthy foods prepared poorly are nasty. It is much easier to produce a delicious french fry than a delicious piece of broccoli, but people will eat the broccoli with delight if it really is prepared and seasoned deliciously. Cynics on the right mock Michelle’s efforts by blithely stating that kids don’t want to eat vegetables, as if this were an acceptable fact. But dreamers on the left suggest that if you offer healthy alternatives (even if poorly made), kids will eat them and be healthier, as if kids would pick the mushy broccoli over the piece of greasy pizza.
The missing piece in the whole discussion of healthy eating is the proper use of salt. We can only develop a healthy food culture if our culture embraces the judicious use of high quality salt and sees it as the central part of cooking that it is.