Sunday, January 31, 2010


There's nothing like a little light reading to take one's mind off a stressful job search (ongoing) or the writing of a dissertation (now completed!), so for the past month I've been enjoying Salt, by Mark Kurlansky:

I've highly enjoyed this entertaining and informative read, not least because it has brought me new appreciation for the Savior's words: "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men" (Matt. 5:13). We (his disicples) are the salt of the earth. What is salt?

Kurlansky explains that salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl), is "essential for digestion and in respiration. Without sodium, which the body cannot manufacture, the body would be unable to transport nutrients or oxygen, transmit nerve impulses, or move muscles, including the heart. An adult human being contains about 250 grams of salt, which would fill three or four salt-shakers, but is constantly losing it through bodily functions. It is essential to replace this lost salt.

"A French folktale relates the story of a princess who declares to her father, 'I love you like salt,' and he, angered by the slight, banishes her from the kingdom. Only later when he is denied salt does he realize its value and therefore learn the depth of his daughter's love. 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." (6)

Disciples of Christ are indispensable to the spiritual health of this world. "Salt deficiency causes headaches and weakness, then light-headedness, then nausea. If deprived long enough, the victim will die" (9); a deficiency of disciples causes spiritual ache and weakness, then an attitude of light-mindedness about serious and holy things, and eventually spiritual death. In this sense the punishment of Lot's wife was appropriate. Lot's family was the living, spiritual salt of Sodom and Gomorrah--the individuals who preserved their neighbors from spiritual death. When they left, the cities experienced spiritual and physical death; when Lot's wife looked back and desired to return, she ceased to be living salt and became "a pillar of [dead] salt" instead (Gen. 19:26).

Salt has many functions: it heals (killing bacteria in infected wounds), preserves food (preventing the onset of bacteria), enhances flavor, and is essential to the preservation of life. So too do disciples of Christ, who can help others find the healing power of the Atonement, preserve them from spiritual mistakes, and enhance or promote their inherent goodness. Until the 20th century, salt was tremendously valuable--it shares the same Latin root as the word salary--even though it was, literally, everywhere. Salt saturates the ocean, and beds of rock salt lie beneath most of the earth's surface. Salt has never been rare; it has only been hidden and required serious work to produce. So too are potential disciples relatively common--but they take a lot of work to produce and are tremendously valuable once made.

Because salt is more or less indestructible--and because it is used to preserve other things for the eternities (including Egyptian mummies)--the Lord used it as a symbol of his covenant with us: "it is a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord unto thee and to thy seed with thee" (Num. 18:19). To help his people remember the nature of this healing, preserving, enriching, and life-giving covenant, God commanded Moses that "with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt" (Lev. 2:13). Kurlansky points out that the Jews still preserve a reminder of this covenant in their symbolic Sabbath meal: "On Friday nights Jews dip the Sabbath bread in salt. In Judaism, bread is a symbol of food, which is a gift from God, and dipping the bread in salt preserves it--keeps the agreement between God and his people" (7). So when you pass the salt for your Sunday dinner tonight, remember that the white stuff hasn't always been cheap or readily available--and that it's a reminder of your covenants.

A few of the other highlights from this book:
  • Did you know that ketchup was originally a sauce made from juices crushed out of salted anchovies? Only around the time of the American Revolution did people in the United States begin extracting a sauce from salted "love-apples" (tomatoes).
  • Did you know that Gandhi's signature act of rebellion against the British government in India was picking up a piece of crusty ocean salt? Salt (and taxes on salt) was at least partly responsible for rebellions in India, China, and France.
  • Did you know that there are multiple underground salt mines in which huge ballrooms, chandeliers, and statues have been carved out of rock salt that were once used to hold magnificent balls for royalty? Seriously, check out this picture of the Wieliczka salt mine:
  • Did you know that the Onondaga Indians traded away almost half of New York state in return for the annual delivery of 150 bushels of salt? And that they're STILL receiving the payment every year?
I'm telling you: salt is interesting stuff.


The Vieiras said...

I may have to get a copy of this. I've been looking for some good reading.

We're sad to hear that the Hutchins clan will not be headed this way, but we know you will find a wonderful spot to bless. Hope you and your beautiful wife are doing well with the new little one. Hopefully we'll still get to see you when you come this way for visits!kin

Becky said...

Might I borrow your copy? :) This is probably my most FAVORITE post from you. Salt is near and dear to my heart because sodium is a problem for Ben to maintain when he is sick. SO...I know most of what you told, not related to the spiritual analogy. But I loved that connection too. I would love to get my hands on a copy. Good stuff Zach. Thanks for this. xoxo

Jenny said...

What a GREAT post!
Love it.
But 'light reading?'
You crack me up.
If this took YOU a month or more to get through, what will it take us simple-minded folk?!
You ROCK(salt)!!

Jo Jo said...

Laughing as well about the light reading comment. If your comments, related to the book, are light, can't imagine heavy. You do Rock!

sassparilla said...

okay, now that you commented on my blog i will comment on yours :)

i want to read this book! i am currently reading a book called BANANA: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World. quite an ostentatious claim for a lowly yellow fruit, right? it is fascinating though.

salt is up next.