Do you have a favorite soup memory–Mom’s chicken broth teeming with fresh noodles, your grandmother’s fragrant minestrone, even that simplest of after-school pleasures, a grilled cheese corner dipped into a cup of hot tomatoey goodness? Whether a hearty stew studded with chunky bits or a soul-satisfyingly clear broth, the world seems a better place with soup in it.
I’ve given those two things a lot of thought lately–the world being a better place, and soup. Believe it or not, I think they are related…or should be.
How can I help shift the tone so we’re actually listening to each other? Examples abound from saints and sages, but lately, I’m finding more inspiration in my kitchen, from that humble time-tested remedy for whatever ails.
There’s something calming about chopping vegetables, sautéing aromatics, and choosing just the right herbs and add-ins, then watching each mélange of flavors, textures and colors transform into something satisfying.
Two truths emerge:
1) Every single ingredient in a larger pot contributes to the outcome; and
2) When things get very complicated, sometimes it’s best to go simple.
As we’re all in this pot together, I’ve devised an experiment, The Soup Project, and I hope you’ll help me gather data.
It’s not an original idea; the folk story Stone Soup beat me by hundreds of years. In a time of scarcity, a group of travelers sets up a small fire in the center of town, placing a pot of water with a single stone in it on top. Curious villagers are invited to share in the “soup,” but warned that it’s meager on ingredients. One by one, each contributes something—a potato, an onion, some carrots, whatever they have on hand–to the pot. Eventually, the stone is removed and everyone shares a feast.
The Soup Project combines the story’s basic elements: generosity, many individual contributions, and a community coming together around a shared goal.
Are you game to try this with me?
Phase 1 – Begin Where You Are
We’re going to need soup–lots of it. Make it or buy it, as long as it’s nourishing and delicious. Armed with this currency, it’s time to spread the wealth:
- Cook up a pot of soup and gather your family and/or a stressed out friend or two. Invite guests to bring a bottle of wine or a loaf of bread, and dive in.
- Start a weekly or monthly soup group with friends from various backgrounds and cultures where each host shares their favorite food memory. Extra credit: Invite someone from a different end of the political spectrum. Don’t talk politics. Stories and soup.
- Prepare a big batch of your favorite recipe and portion it into reused deli containers. Surprise your neighbors with a delicious dinner on a busy weeknight.
- Invite your friends of all persuasions to come over some Saturday afternoon to share cooking duties and conversation. Make sure everyone leaves with a take-home souvenir of your time together.
- At the neighborhood deli or supermarket buy an extra container of soup. Give it to that person on the street you might normally pass. Don’t be surprised if you walk away wondering which of you feels more gratitude.
- Hunger may be more obvious in urban areas, but it exists everywhere. Most towns have soup kitchens and food banks. Set aside weekly time to volunteer at one near you.
- Invite an elderly neighbor who lives alone to share a meal at your house or the local diner. Let them do most of the talking.
Phase 2 – Where Magic Happens
Having experimented with the real thing, it’s time to make metaphoric soup. Here’s where we find ways to recreate the comfort and sense of being home to people and communities in need of healing in other ways. A good start would be to engage in the practice of deep listening: When a friend or loved one speaks to you, engage in conversation by giving the other person your undivided attention. Put everything else down, holding only eye contact. Let them finish speaking, then ask a question that indicates you heard them. This practice can be especially powerful when done with someone whose views differ from yours.
An amazing act of self-care would be to take a deep dive into your social media habits. Are they deepening your actual social relationships or creating chasms? Has the comments section and a text screen eclipsed real human encounters in your life? Try designating one day a week as a technology-free day. Refrain from engaging in social media sites, reading blogs, and playing games. And stay away from your smartphone, except to use the keypad to call someone you haven’t heard from in a while or a friend who needs cheering up. Notice what happens.
There are so many other ways to reach out. I’ve listed a few here, but I’m hoping you’ll think of a thousand more:
- Write a heartfelt letter of thanks (on paper!) to someone who has helped you.
- Offer to hold down the fort for a caretaker so they can catch a nap.
- Compliment a complete stranger.
- Actively look around for someone who seems to need the seat on the bus more than you.
- Mentor a young person who needs nonjudgmental guidance and support. Here’s a good place to find one.
I hope you’ll report back in the comments below, where we’ll share ideas, our soup stories, and of course some delicious soup recipes!
No need to wait to set the world straight. We can do it ourselves. One delicious bowlful at a time.