During the four months that intervened between this and our next meeting he secured numerous specimens of sheep, caribou, and other far northern mammals, and incidentally had his first experience of “living on the country.” Most people are in the habit of looking upon the articles of our accustomed diet, and especially upon salt, as necessities. We have not found them so.
October 12, 1908
My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 5
At Flaxman Island Dr. Anderson and I talked over plans for the winter in detail. From a zoological point of view it seemed most important for him to go into the mountains south of Barter Island in search of the scientifically unknown mountain sheep, which would probably prove to be a variety of the Ovis dalli, and which, by native account, were fairly abundant. He would later on, if everything went well, go still farther south, beyond the mountains and the mountain sheep country, into the Yukon Valley, where he hoped to take some specimens of the also scientifically unknown caribou of northern Alaska. These plans of his eventuated very well. During the four months that intervened between this and our next meeting he secured numerous specimens of sheep, caribou, and other far northern mammals, and incidentally had his first experience of “living on the country.” In fact the caribou proved much more abun dant than we had hoped for; so abundant that had it not been for a shortage of tobacco, Dr. Anderson would have found considerable difficulty in inducing the Eskimo to leave the fleshpots and com fortable forest camps of the Yukon slope for the Arctic coast, where they could look forward to nothing better than living on the provisions we had purchased at Point Barrow; and living on “white men's grub ” is always a hardship to an Eskimo. It was, incidentally, Dr. Anderson's first experience of living without salt, an ordeal which he had much dreaded, for he shared the common belief that salt is a necessary article of diet. But it turned out, as I knew from experience it would, that he did not mind it seriously.
Most people are in the habit of looking upon the articles of our accustomed diet, and especially upon salt, as necessities. We have not found them so. The longer you go without grain foods and vegetables the less you long for them. Salt I have found to behave like a narcotic poison —in other words, it is hard to break off its use, as it is hard to stop the use of tobacco; but after you have been a month or so without salt you cease to long for it, and after six months I have found the taste of meat boiled in salt water distinctly disagreeable. In the case of such a necessary element of food as fat, on the other hand, I have found that the longer you are without it the more you long for it, until the craving becomes much more intense than is the hunger of a man who fasts. (The symptoms of starvation are those of a disease rather than of being hungry.) Among the uncivilized Eskimo the dislike of salt is so strong that a saltiness imperceptible to me would prevent them from eating at all. This circumstance was often useful to me later in our travels about Coronation Gulf, for whenever our Eskimo visitors threatened to eat us out of house and home we could put in a little pinch of salt, and thus husband our resources without seeming inhospitable. A man who tasted anything salty at our table would quickly bethink him that he had plenty of more palatable fare in his own house.