Putting salt in your coffee tastes nasty. That didn’t stop Alton Brown from recommending it in a new advertisement for Cargill. That’s just one of the dirty details in a great behind-the-scenes New York Times story on the processed food industry’s attempts to keep antisodium initiatives at bay. We’ve known that salt is really bad for you since the 1970s (it causes hypertension in some people), but every time anybody tries to get the companies that supply our nation with frozen pizzas and potato chips to cut back, those companies launch a coordinated offensive. This time around, they’re battling New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, Michelle Obama, and the Institute of Medicine.

Somewhat surprisingly, executives at snack food companies went out of their way to demonstrate to Times reporter Michael Moss just how gross their products would be without lots of salt. Kellogg apparently sat down with him and tasted some of its biggest sellers, minus most of their sodium: “The Cheez-It fell apart in surprising ways,” Moss writes. “The golden yellow hue faded. The crackers became sticky when chewed, and the mash packed onto the teeth. The taste was not merely bland but medicinal.”

Indeed, without salt, packaged foods, especially meat, often taste very bad: “[Salt] counters a side effect of processed food production called ‘warmed-over flavor,’ which, the scientists said, can make meat taste like ‘cardboard’ or ‘damp dog hair.'”

Let me get this straight: One of the processed food industry’s tactics is to show that its food is gross without salt? And therefore salt should stay at high levels? Add to that the other message points, which warn that sugar levels would have to come up to make less salty food palatable, and that costs of food would rise as makers would be forced to use more expensive flavoring ingredients: actual butter! Herbs! Tomatoes that taste like something!

I am not sure it’s even necessary to point out how weird these arguments are. They’re basically openly saying to the American public: If you take away our salt, you’ll see our food is supercrappy. You don’t want that, now, do you?

Image source: Flickr member ryemang under Creative Commons

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