How much should salt cost? Not much, I suppose.
After all, the stuff is produced in 93 countries worldwide, according to the British Geological Survey, with the four leading producers — China, the United States, India and Germany — combining for more than half the world’s production of about 259 million metric tons.
Of course, we only need a pinch of salt now and then for good health. About as much, I’d say, as my wife brought home one recent Saturday from Worcester’s BirchTree Bread Company. In a small jar. Cost about $8. And which was promptly mailed to our daughter in California for a few dollars more.
Well, there’s more to this story.
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BirchTree, which opened in late 2014 at 138 Green St., has grown increasingly hip and popular over time, helping lead a culinary renaissance in Worcester — and if there’s a better way to lead a broader economic rebirth than food, what is it?
Naturally, when vendors are invited into the BirchTree forest of wonders, they aren’t just any vendors. They are small, startup businesses such as one sees in places like Brooklyn; Brattleboro, Vermont; and those ‘burbs of Boston where such purveyors of charm can make the rent.
Thus, this was no ordinary sodium chloride. It was, to overuse an overused adjective, artisanal salt. It was, to further wear out a second worn-out adjective, curated salt.
“As one of only a few craft salterns in North America, and the only Kosher craft saltern, the Marblehead Salt Company hand harvests and prepares superior artisan sea salts according to a 1,600 year-old process perfected by the monks of Mount Athos,” the aforementioned company proclaims on its website.
Aside from the missing hyphen between “1,600” and “year-old,” I am impressed. This is salt done the old-fashioned way. Salt for the slow-food movement. Salt for the ages. Salt that is truly the spice of life.
As to the price, I readily admit that by almost any standard we overpaid. But we weren’t simply buying table salt. We were going for the Salt Experience, which includes sending something distinctly and uniquely Massachusetts to our daughter in San Francisco, which has many distinct and unique traits, but not this one.
There is, however, a broader point. The economic forces at play along Green Street, throughout the Canal District, on Shrewsbury Street, Park Avenue, Main South, and many other corners of this diverse and fascinating city are not being scripted by anyone.
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That you can now get superb pizza at several locations, have a choice of Thai restaurants, and can even sample cuisine from Afghanistan is not because someone in the Executive Office of Economic Development in City Hall unveiled a master plan. It’s because entrepreneurs — from all walks of life and with economic means ranging from modest to ample — decided to take a chance, test a market and live a dream.
Most dreams remain just that. Some are born and fade. But enough come true to make a city, a state or a nation economically stronger and culturally more interesting than it was before. And that largely happens in spite of, and not because of, government.
There are two kinds of irony at play here.
First, the freedom and diversity that produce these kinds of businesses and opportunities — that which we call capitalism — are under attack from the political left and the political right. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump now oppose free trade, which many would argue has produced unparalleled prosperity for America [Editor’s note: The “middle class” may have a bone to pick with that.] and the world.
Clinton has made clear that what capitalism she favors combines heavy-handed regulation with favoritism for those with the money necessary to buy influence and relief from that regulation — an art she perfected while reaping millions for her family’s “charity” while posing as secretary of state.
Trump, meanwhile, has certainly done well for himself in business [Ed. note: Bankruptcy games, notwithstanding], but whether his skills can be transferred to government is impossible to tell, given the almost incomprehensible nonsense that he spouts today, in direct contradiction to whatever he spouted yesterday.
Lest you think that Bernie Sanders would have been any better, take a look at Venezuela, where a socialism that differs only in its rhetorical flourishes from that preached by the Vermont senator has left millions malnourished.
The second irony is that left-leaning, socially conscious folks flock to hip cafes and restaurants across our nation, pay top dollar for awesome locally sourced salads, sip overpriced coffee drinks, and keep thinking of ways to tear down the capitalist system that has made it all possible.