At Least Ya Got Soup

Collin Harvey/Flickr/Creative Commons

Hoping to dissuade a maniac from destroying humankind, a pacifying Abby Yates (played by Melissa McCarthy) in Ghostbusters 2016 racks her brain for ways to give his life a sense of value. “[T]here are so many terrific things out there!” she says. “There are wonderful things that are worth living for! I mean, you got soup…”

Then she stumbles, realizing she’s abruptly run out of reasons.

Patty Tolan (played by Leslie Jones) proposes salad, for this is the most obvious alternative to soup.

After this everyone is out of ideas.

Entrees, appetizers and other dishes often incite differences between diners in search of a dish everyone can agree on, but even in vegan circles, there’s usually a safe soup option. It is one of the few certainties any social situation has to offer. Soup can serve as light precursors to meals, substitutes for meals in those seeking to lose weight, cheap rations for soldiers or civilians forced to fast and entire meals that transcend the grandiose.

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They can be strange. My Italian family has roots in the Veneto and when you travel through that region you frequently find fish soup — meaning fish plus a host of other maritime surprises. Squid, mussels, scallops and octopi grace your bowl with a colorful marina of textures. At holidays this fish soup becomes the grand event of the occasion for all the second- and first-generation people there. I usually set out in search of something less alien to my palette, then pretend to eat a bowl of fish soul afterwards.

Soups can be medicinal. It remains a mystery whatever chicken broth contains that enhances health and bolsters immune systems. It continues to endure as an overwhelmingly popular folk medicine with no scientific data to backing its value as such, although The Chest Journal and The Chicago Tribune report theories involving neutrophil migration and the Amino acid cysteine. Spicy soups, however, bring benefits as well, with evidence published by Today.com suggesting antimicrobial effects, anti-inflammatory effects, pain relief, even extended longevity. Like all spicy foods, they can have other consequences and are not recommended for anyone with hemorrhoids.

Wellcome Library, London/Wellcome Images/Lithograph by James Collison

Of course the best soups recreate the sublime. In bowls of tortilla soup like the one shown above, avocado, corn and chili congregate freely, merging tart juices with sour cream at your discretion. My mom’s turkey chili embodies these flavors gorgeously; somewhere between those green tomatillos and the salsa verde lives euphoria. I generally prefer to eat this soup when doing something Southwestern, like reading something by Cormac McCarthy or staying in a cabin — ideally both.

Then there is the soup on which I’m dining this evening, a Chunky brand chicken dumpling I’m not bothering to heat. The saltine crackers go a long way both in helping to absorb this rather creamy, cold broth and in supplementing this container’s contents into something like a meal. It’s a reliable, sustainable option when you stay in motels beside the freeway or the back of your car for a few days, in my case while touring Arizona’s backcountry and lodging on the cheap in campgrounds. Indeed in many situations such as these soup remains the one option about everyone can agree on.

Chris Benincaso/Breakfast of Champions?
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