Last week, Walmart announced it would push to cut the salt and sugar content of its processed food products. In the debate over this announcement—was it enough?—Jane Black hit the right note. Cutting sugar and salt from foods too quickly won't work because people are hooked on them. The effort will take time and Walmart's five-year timetable doesn't seem unreasonable. However, as Tom Laskawy points out, it makes no sense to leave national nutrition policy up to companies.
Which brings me to Berlin, where I happened to be this past week on research for my book on bread. A chef I met told me that when he visited the U.S. he found food exceedingly salty. This made me think of those restaurants that rely on specialty salts to season their dishes right before they're served: the bright note highlights certain flavors ... or does it? Salt can also be a culinary crutch, a quick fix to entice the palate. And I've got to say, now that I've eaten around Berlin, in take-away joints, pubs, and sit-down restaurants, the food is less salty and no one seems to have a problem with it.
Now, back in D.C., I eat most of my meals at home and don't rely on processed foods. I try to be rather judicious with salt, but even so, I've had food here that tasted under-seasoned. I had a wonderful split pea soup at the farmers' market in Prenzlauer Berg in East Berlin, for example, and found it very mildly seasoned, but it was richly flavored with spices and dill. Instead of salt there was vinegar at the tables where people stood and ate, and it did the trick when I added a few drops. (Soup at a farmers' market? Actually there were few farmers here—mostly vendors selling prepared foods and drinks, from wine to olives, soups, bread, and handmade Turkish flatbread with fillings.)