The joys of soup

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, March 1, 2016

When the world seems crazy, chopping and stewing conserve sanity and the Earth.

Illustration by April CaverhillI'M MAKING SOUP TODAY, with the last of the pumpkins we bundled into the garage last fall. The art of soup making—originally using meat leftovers and foraged bits of grains and greens, and long before the concept of recipe—no doubt began evolving eons ago when food was scarce and sporadic, and people were practical and hungry. Today more than ever it’s a primal and satiating ritual for both body and soul—the gathering and preparation of ingredients on hand, the stirring as wonderful fragrances are released, the ladling of elixir into the bowl.

Making soup helps keep me grounded when the world feels like we’re headed for the abyss. It’s hard to not be affected by our blinkered impulsion to just keep blissfully rolling along on so many vital and pivotal issues, stubbornly stuck on the fantasy that government or some other Almighty Force will fix everything without requiring any change or compromise from us.

I could wallow in the perverse nuttiness of it all but instead dig out two of my favourite therapeutic tools: a cutting board and trusty soup pot. The gourd-thing I’m prepping is not really a pumpkin, judging from its elongated shape, odd colouring and overall warty presentation, not to mention that it self-seeded in the garden and thrived through last summer’s interminable drought. The dense orange-yellow flesh hints at mixed parentage and promises a punch of both flavour and nutrition. In the truest sense it’s a gift of the earth.

I chop while ruminating on crucial current millstones—for one, the Trans-Pacific Partnership moving recklessly towards ratification when we don’t have a clue how it will really affect us. We’ve done this too many times in recent years, signed first under lobbyist pressure and then had the fine print read to us. There’s also the billions in direct and indirect subsidies we shell out annually to the ailing oil sector that, gallingly, uses threats of job-loss and economic hardship to keep progress paralyzed and our wallets wide open. 

The correlation between health and lifestyle is another conundrum that society still largely ignores, because who wants to tackle all those powerful industry lobbyists that walk in lockstep with our policy makers? And consider the extent to which we complain about the cost of food, yet continue to waste almost 40 percent of it. This, especially, is an irritating head scratcher: How is it that we keep failing to connect two cause-and-effect dots so large as to practically overlap?

The pumpkin simmers nicely along with carrots, onions, a Moroccan spice blend and a potato to help turn it all into a creamy puree. Pumpkins are nutritious and cheap (or free) and lend themselves well to many dishes sweet and savoury. And yet they’re among the most wasted foods, bought mostly for decorating and then tossed into the compost, or worse, the garbage. That’s especially sad considering their abundance as a local crop, much of it left languishing in Central Saanich fields every autumn. 

Soup is a great way to cut back on food waste. For decades now, I’ve been going to the garden to gather ingredients for what my kids years ago impishly coined “Scavenger Soup.” Depending on the month, I might gather overripe beans and peas, a bunch of excess chard or kale, a few misshapen carrots, a softening onion and a few bruised tomatoes. These days I also save trimmings from purchased vegetables. They’re delicious, full of nutrition and can patiently wait in the freezer until the next batch. You don’t have to be a good cook to make soup (I’m not), just a conservationist who enjoys chopping and stirring and tinkering with flavours.

Homemade soup will not solve the world’s issues but it can certainly help ease them, one household at a time. At the micro-level it supports local food and thus the local economy, a reduction in food waste, especially for food considered past its prime, better health through better and more unadulterated nutrition, increased self-sustainability, easier living on a budget, and a decreased carbon footprint for each of the above benefits. 

We’ll need big new innovations to solve all our big-system woes, but at your house and mine it could all start with a great pot of soup. And then another; no two are exactly alike. Gather the people, set out the bowls and dip in the ladle. Homemade soup is wellbeing, and these days it’s definitely on.

Writer and Master Gardener Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is dreaming about spring and new greens for soup. She also congratulates Focus on its exciting new chapter and looks forward to being a part of it.