Soup Sucks

This is the bravest thing I’ve ever written

Red Lentil Soup with ingredients on wooden background, top view, copy space. Traditional turkish or ...
To Broth or Not to Broth

As the air becomes crisper, the sun sets earlier, and we start finding used tissues in our jackets from last year, a song fills the air. Well, two songs. The first is the song where we talk about how much we love fall. The second is the one where people start to discuss how it is “soup season.”

Soup, its admirers sing. How good it makes you feel, how warm it makes your stomach, how actually it is so easy to make your own broth by boiling a chicken carcass in water for one million hours.

Like Odysseus, every year I am forced to stuff wax into my ears to mute this song. Because here is the truth: Soup is not good. I will not say that whatever soup makes you feel is invalid, but we must be honest with ourselves. As a food, soup is pathetic, and I cannot let another cold season pass by without taking the advice of Lisa Rinna and speaking my truth.

People who have heard this opinion always ask me the same questions.

  1. All soup?
  2. What about when you’re sick?
  3. Even ramen and pho?

The answers to these questions are: yes, not even then, and there are other dishes from both Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine that I would rather eat. Moving on.

The thing about soup is that broth never really makes something better. Look at the Old Faithful of soups, chicken noodle. Hiding in that steaming bowl is a beautiful pasta dish full of chicken and vegetables, and someone went and covered it in hot, salty water. I would argue that any chunky soup (Italian wedding, minestrone, beef and barley, etc) would all be better as standalone dishes that were served on a plate and eaten with a fork. In soup, the meat is never as tender as you want, the vegetables have the same mushy quality that they do in a public school cafeteria, and then — there is the texture.

A chunky soup is, by definition, chunks of stuff floating in hot liquid. When faced with chunks of stuff floating in hot liquid, you are forced into the position of chewing said chunks while also holding the hot liquid in your mouth until it all mixes together into something that can be swallowed. All of that to have your stomach full of liquid. My own sensory issues aside, does that description sound appetizing?

Let’s move to the physical realities of eating soup. It is a balancing act that requires possessing the grace needed to move a spoonful of liquid into an open mouth. Most of us do not possess that grace. Instead, eating soup turns most people into gargoyles, hunched over a bowl spooning clam chowder into their mouth. The mouth has to stretch wider than it does with solid food, out of fear that the delicately balanced spoonful of hot salt water has a big enough hole to land in. If not the gaping maw approach, people often go for a slurp, which is one of God’s worst noises. It is ugly to eat soup and even worse to watch someone eat soup — the exception being old people, who eat everything as if it is soup.

You may have noticed that my main gripe is with “soup that has stuff in it.” Never fear, I also don’t enjoy smooth soup. Tomato soup, butternut squash, anything that requires an immersion blender, these don’t offend my sensibilities as much, but I can’t help but think that I would rather be eating a real tomato or squash dish. Tomato soup is great as a dip for grilled cheese, but you need less than a ramekin’s worth for that, and if a soup is used as a dip, is it soup? A whole bowl is too rich, too indulgent, too likely to drip onto the white shirt that you are definitely wearing.

I’m modest enough to know that I am not usually on the winning side of the soup v. solids argument. I know that almost no one reading this will agree with me, and that’s fine. My goal here is to speak to the dozens of people who feel the same way. Every year we suffer in near silence as coworkers suggest Hale & Hearty for lunch, as loved ones talk about the carcasses they are turning into broth, as we choose salad at Olive Garden even though it’s chilly outside. I stand with you all, and am here to tell you that you are not alone. I see you, I hear you, and I will be roasting several beautiful chickens in your honor this year.