The other day I had a very odd encounter with the canteen lady. 

I had come into the university canteen to grab some salt. As I was picking up one of the miniscule sachets the lady turned to me and said, “that will be 10p each please”. I was momentarily taken back, 10p each? The salt is just sitting in an open jar literally inviting people to take it and yet you charge 10p?

Just as Tescos, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose utilise the 10p per plastic bag as a strategy to reduce our plastic intake, has the University of Westminster jumped on board? Charging their students for a small packet of salt in the hope that the 10p cost will reduce their salt consumption?


The Public Health Service issued a press release last year titling it, ‘The UK population is eating too much sugar, saturated fat and salt”. According to the NDNS data from 2008-2012 shows that the average salt intake for older adults aged 65+ was over 7.2g per day, above the recommended 6g a day. Average salt intake in children aged 4-18 years also exceeded the SACN recommendations. The World Health Organisation has stated that salt reduction is of equal importance to smoke cessation, further emphasising the high recognition of importance of reducing salt intake.

This poor mineral has been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, stomach cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It would seem, as according to Consensus Action on Salt and Health, that little old salt is right up sandwiched between alcohol and cigarettes in the list of naughties to be avoided.

But salt has not always had such a bad rep. Humans have always tended to build communities either around the source of salt, or where they can trade it. The availability of salt has been pivotal to civilisation. Did you know that the word ‘salary’ comes from the Latin word for salt? Roman Legions were sometimes paid in salt hence our glory word’s origins. Salt has been used to preserve food and in the Middle East it was used ceremoniously to seal an agreement. Communities have bartered over it, even fought wars over the mineral. Venice and Genoa did battle for salt and the substance furthermore played an important part in the American Revolution. In fact salt tax was deemed to be one of the causes of the French Revolution.

And yet here it is being branded by the Public Health of England as being a substance to avoid, a major contributor to an unhealthy lifestyle and diet.

The truth is that all things must be enjoyed in moderation, and far from becoming a prized and valued substance salt is now slapped onto every meal to add some gusto and flavour. We have become a society that relies on salt, a ‘salty society’ one may say. No longer is it the occasional sprinkle of rock salt on a couple of crinkled cut chips, but now it is one of the main demands anyone has when a plate of food is put in front of them, ‘sorry, where is the salt?’. It could be porridge and I am sure some chap needs his sodium.

In despite of this I feel that charging 10p for a tiny packet is unreasonable. Unlike plastic which is bad for the environment, salt is really not doing too much harm to our physical surroundings. I understand that splashing ten sodium packets on your dodgy canteen looking Shepherd’s Pie might be cause for alarm, but what about the select few who enjoy just a pinch of salt with their homemade potato wedges? Surely we should not have to incur the 10p fee because Joe Blogs wants to stock up on the stuff? And surely if you have purchased from the selected area you shouldn’t have to pay for condiment packages?

The truth of the matter is, that despite the 10p surcharge our salt intake is not reducing. It alarms me when I slave away over a hot stove for an hour or more trying to produce the creme de la creme of pastas and upon arrival on his plate my boyfriend turns to me and asks, ‘where is the salt?’.

Just as our first question when we enter any big department store is ‘sorry where are the ladies?’, so too has, ‘where is the salt?’ become our go-to question when anyone presents us with a plate of food.

It is time to take a leaf out of the Romans book and enjoy salt as a prized substance. It will taste all the more better for it.

Words: Catherine McMaster
Image: Creative Commons,