Thursday, August 21, 2014
Humans have for thousands of years had a love-hate relationship with salt.
An old French proverb says, "Don't slaughter more pigs than you can salt." In the long centuries before refrigeration, salt was an essential preservative in the curing of food.
And, for hundreds of years, the term, "salt of the earth" has been a laudatory description for honorable people of good character.
In the Book of Genesis, angels ordered Lot and his family to leave the evil city of Sodom and not look back. Unfortunately, Lot's wife did look back at Sodom and was turned into a pillar of salt.
In antiquity, it is said that after a Roman general defeated Carthage, he ordered his troops to plow over the city and salt the earth so that no crops would grow there again. The truth of the story is disputed, but the term "salting the earth" -- has been a common term since the Middle Ages for rendering a defeated enemy's homeland uninhabitable or his sustenance impossible.
Salt in Fairy Tales
Salt is an element in many fairy tales, all with the same theme.
The general story is that a rich man or king asks his daughters how much they love him. Several of the daughters compare him to sweetness, and he approves and is pleased. The last daughter says he is as important as salt, and the father, offended, casts her out of his home or castle.
Over the course of some time, the banished daughter proves herself, sometimes by becoming a lowly cook and serving her parents meals seasoned only with sugar until they grow sick of what they are eating. In other cases, the family servants, who favor the cast-out daughter, remove all salt from the family diet until the king asks why his food has no flavor. Only then does the father recognize the wisdom of the daughter he rejected.
In the end, the daughter who spoke of salt is welcomed back into the family and treasured by her father.
Variations of this tale come from England, France, Austria, Italy, Germany, Pakistan and India. (The story also has been adopted, without salt, in the Cinderella story and Shakespeare's King Lear.)
Clearly, salt means many things to humans. It animates fantasies and Bible stories, and it is the basis for praise, punishment, sustenance and interest in life.
In modern times, we have been told repeatedly that salt is bad, bad, bad, and that we should never eat it ever, ever, ever. In fact, the history is mixed.
More on that tomorrow.