Buenos Aires Shoves (Not Nudges) People to Avoid Salt by Eliminating Salt Shakers from Tables

June 12th, 2011

Buenos Aires has banned salt shakers in restaurants. A patron can still request additional salt, only after tasting their food. This is interesting for a few reasons. First, this seems, at first glance, to be an illustration of Cass Sunstein-like choice architecture; a nudge. Structure people’s choices so that they make better decisions. Rather than having salt on the table, people need to request it. This additional transaction cost will perhaps deter people from gratuitously adding it to their food before they ty it.

But, I think this is less a nudge, and more of a shove. This is not putting the salt shaker on a low shelf, and putting the salt-alternative on a high shelf. This is eliminating the salt altogether from the table. The state is drastically changing the way that people enjoy food. Predictably, this will probably cause restaurants to start adding more salt in the kitchen, to avoid patrons annoyed at bland food. Now, more people will likely be eating more salt.

Second, the motivation behind this move may soon rear its head in our nation. CNN Repots:

In an effort to combat hypertension, which affects some 3.7 million residents in the province — nearly a quarter of the population, the health department reached an agreement with the hotel and restaurant federation to remove salt shakers from the tables at their eateries.

In other words, salt shakers were banned in order to make people healthier (translation–cut health care costs). With the laudable goal of cutting health care costs–Argentina has “universal” health care–the state now has a free license to modify the behavior of individuals. Restricting their diet is just the start. Wait till Argentinians are confronted with a broccoli mandate, forcing them to consume that leafy green.