One of the big topics of conversation is how your natural environment affects what you eat. (Let me clarify – I mean the conversation among the voices in my head. The conversations with my real, human friends are much lighter, and usually end with a chuckle. The voices in my head all sit at a long table, in a shadowy conference room. They could launch a missile crisis as easily as they could plan a ladies tea party. So serious.) These days, our natural food environment isn’t all that natural. When we need food, we go to the grocery store. What they have on special, I usually buy. If the grocery store doesn’t have my favorite flavor of Pop Tarts, I sulk, and then I buy the whatever the Quaker dude is hawking. At heart, I’m still a hunter-gatherer, but I get do my food gathering in air conditioning, with coupons.
Down the road from the ranch is La Sal del Rey, a natural salt lake that, for thousands of years, has been a destination for wildlife, salt harvesters, and weekend thrill seekers like me. I had never visited the lake, so my husband and I took our youngest son who was home from college.
Let’s be frank: It was a little smelly. Billions of snails, both alive and dead, lined the banks, and crunched under my boots as we hiked. (For some reason the voices in my head told me a natural salt lake would be an outstanding backdrop to take a head shot photo of me to feature on my blog. Geared up in a cute outfit, full makeup, my grandfather’s Stetson, with my tripod and 2 cameras, the hike was about a mile in, and a mile out, in slippery, unstable salty mud. Yeah, I said the voices are serious. I didn’t say they were bright.) Birds, insects, mammals, gastropods, and humans are all attracted to this salt lake. There were paw and hoof prints of almost every native species, from deer, to bobcat, coyote, and even a dead turkey. They had come for the smell, but they stayed for the salt licking.
Absolutely everything was coated with salt. Walking across the sandy flat was like being a giant, with microscopic paparazzi at your feet. The sand flashed and sparkled.
Not only could a native gather salt here, they could hunt the game that was attracted to the salt lick. The mosquitos, the smell, and the caustic environment were a tradeoff for the convenience of easy hunting and abundant salt at this spot. I would bet the natives tribes would only camp here occasionally, as fresh water is a few miles away. As an American food historian, I can only imagine that this was a similar scene at the Great Salt Lake in Utah.
Where ever you are, take some time to explore your local natural lakes, rivers and geological formations. Let the voices in your head convene at their conference table (like mine do) and contemplate what it was like to survive without a grocery store, air conditioning, and piped-in music from the 90’s. It’s always humbling to walk in the reality of how much human life has evolved.