Milad Doueihi

Baltimore, Maryland

Salt & Beans

I imagine that for most people Sid is the author of Sweetness & Power and therefore he is a man of sugar. To be sure, he has a sweet tooth. But in reality, and despite this seeming weakness, he is a man of salt at heart.  

A few years ago, we both participated in a small conference on the Cultural Representations of Food. I was interested at the time in why elephants were considered sexually "devout" animals, and Sid was arguing that despite some popular expressions indicating otherwise "love" is really a salty affair. Since then we have shared and prepared many meals and have come to especially appreciate the fleur de sel de Guérande. So in the spirit of "saltiness" I offer a few selections from a classical text devoted to the issue. The text comes from Plutarch's Moralia and belongs to his Table Talks series of Dialogues [Quaestiones Convivales, V, 10] and it goes by the mouth-watering title "Who 'salt and bean friends' are; and incidentally, why Homer calls salt divine".  

During a dinner given by Florus, he asked who are meant by "salt and bean friends" in the proverb. The scholar Apollophanes had a ready answer for this saying. "The proverb refers to friends who are so close to us as to be content to dine with us on salt and a bean." Then we raised the question why salt is so highly esteemed. For Homer goes so far as to say, "He sprinkled with salt divine" [Iliad, ix. 214], and Plato says that by the custom of mankind salt is regarded as of all substances the one most favoured by the gods...  

When I stopped speaking, Philinus took up the thread: "Don't you think that generation is divine, since the beginning of anything is always a god?" I said yes, and he went on: "Well, people hold that salt contributes not a little to generation, even as you yourself have said in talking about the Egyptians. Dog-fanciers, at any rate, whenever their dogs are sluggish towards copulation stimulate and intensify the seminal power dormant in the animals by feeding them salty meat and other briny food. Ships carrying salt breed an infinite number of rats, because, according to some authorities, the female conceives without coition by licking the salt. But it is more likely that the saltiness imparts a sting to the sexual members and serves to stimulate copulation. For this reason, perhaps, womanly beauty is called 'salty' and 'piquant' when it is not passive nor unyielding, but has charm and provocativeness.  

Sid, of course, is not a big fan of canines. He favors instead a special feline:

And for his 80th birthday I wish him long and happy "salt and bean" dinners with his family and friends under the ever-watchful eyes of Marcello.