51 pages • 1 hour readMark Kurlansky
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“The real price of everything, what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.”
Salt’s value is best indicated by the lengths to which people were willing to go to attain and control it. When considering an operation like the Union army’s efforts to destroy southern saltworks, the amount of time, manpower, effort, and travel required to do so is staggering. On the commercial side, the effort to dig shafts into a mountain, or to build artificial salt ponds, is just as demanding in terms of effort and expenditure.
“Salt is so common, so easy to obtain, and so inexpensive, that we have forgotten that from the beginning of civilization until about 100 years ago, salt was one of the most sought-after commodities in human history.”
A paradox in the book is that salt is everywhere, accessible to most, and yet has historically been treated as if it were scarce. Such scarcities were manufactured by merchants’ purchasing of competitors, violent enforcement by agents such as the gabelous, and government regulation. The section on British control of Indian salt is a particularly egregious example thereof.
“Baby formula contains three salts: magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride.”
In light of later comments about salt’s potential influence on health, it is notable that the feeding of infants will generally include at least three forms of salt. It is also true that most people, including new parents, are unlikely to be able to enumerate the potential benefits—or harms—of different types of salts.
By Mark Kurlansky