It’s true. On Saturday mornings, I get up and run with The Running Bunch, a very intelligent, compassionate and athletic group of women. I feel like I won the friendship lottery to join them. Then I shop for groceries, all the weekly necessities, and I secretly put soup ingredients in my cart. Not that my family is opposed to me shopping for soup ingredients, but sometimes I am not sure what kind of soup I will be making, so it is even a secret to me.
When I unpack the food necessities, I selectively leave ingredients on the counter as potential candidates for soup. Broth, some type of protein and always vegetables. The spices in my cupboard are screaming, “Pick me!”
While my intentions are not to share a recipe in this column, as I am a basic soup chef, I will tell you garlic and onion are almost always how I start out. And the morning proceeds with liquid boiling and adding things as I chop them. My husband, Steve, always offers a hand. Already I feel good about my day. I am making something that will warm bellies and hopefully taste good.
At a simple glance, it is easy to see how soup-making is enjoyable. Many soups are not difficult to make. You throw a bunch of ingredients in a pot and, after they cook together for a while, they taste great.
And this sentiment got me thinking: Soup is a great metaphor for almost anything we value.
Soup is a fantastic example of collaboration. When the vegetables, spices and protein of your choice cook together, sit together, experiencing culinary osmosis, the concoction is far better than if a person ate each ingredient separately. We all know this.
So, I invite you to think of the process in a human way. Sometimes, we enter opportunities to collaborate like soup with hesitation or resistance. When you think about the soup-making process, can you blame us? When people collaborate, there is an exchange, maybe even a battle, to contribute flavors and everyone knows no singular entity will win. It will be a team effort, compromise, or the whole pot is going down.
And it happens in an environment that is boiling from heat. That’s right: heat! When humans collaborate, they often engage in a cognitive conflict where people can feel the heat. In the end, the product far exceeds anything we could have done on our own — the soup and the collaborative work. There are better decisions, increased commitment, cohesiveness, empathy and understanding.
One of my most respected mentors will say before a project is completed, “It’s not soup yet,” referring to this important process of human collaboration. She means more time is needed together, to bring out the best of everyone and the best product. Collaboration at work, home, social or political environments makes us better. Ken Blanchard said, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” We should act more like soup in our daily environments. And I am first in line to take my own advice.
Soup makes us humble. Soup is one of the most economical foods and soup makers often have the opportunity to put perfectly good leftovers into the boiling pot. Parents might even hide obscure vegetables like lima beans, okra or other things grown from the ground, indiscriminately pureed or seasoned. I’ve often found that people enjoy soup more than they thought they would. They will eat ingredients in soup they would not eat on their own. Eating soup helps us appreciate the abundance available to us. It can be humbling.
Soup is a symbol of support. Giving. Charity. When I hear a family might be going through tough times, I make them soup. And I freeze it so they can eat it when they need it most. I have often wished, when a person was going through a particularly tough time, I could make 1,000 gallons of soup to right their situation. (Secretly, I would make more to correct many unfortunate circumstances.)
I also like to share soup at work, surprising co-workers with a cup in a plastic container they do not have to return. I just assume someone might want soup. And, if they don’t, they know I was thinking of them. I figure they can be politely vague with me if they don’t like it. And they still know I am rooting for them.
Our community has rallied to support homelessness with an inspiring and delicious event, Soup For All. It is the best lunch you will ever have with soups made from Grand Haven restaurants. It takes place in November, with well-known servers, and it raises needed funds for people in our community. Each time I go, I connect with more people I have not seen for a while.
While this event most obviously connects to soup, our community has so many charitable organizations that work together to lift all of us up. I am a big fan of the Greater Ottawa County United Way, Kiwanis and the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation. Each of these organizations uniquely serves our people, with a strong community collaboration acting as rue (flour and butter mixture) to strengthen and thicken their impact. And there are so many others, people and organizations, who make a difference.
Soup is a symbol of America, yes? It is multicultural and a long-standing part of our history. All the pieces and flavors and contributions make us who we are. We love our diversity, the variations, the discourse and the unity. Any soup fits this description, unless you call oatmeal soup.
Soup is a symbol of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This is one of my favorite holidays because it invites us to pause and think of inclusion, working together, eliminating poverty, and service to others. Dr. King said, “Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
And, I add, “Anyone can make soup!”
Are King’s values not a wonderful bisque of social justice? Grand Haven Area Public Schools are organizing a non-perishable food drive to support those who can benefit in our community. While the food drive is primarily organized by students and staff, no community member’s donation will be turned away if you contribute between Jan. 15 and 26. Canned soup might be a good contribution.
This is why I like soup so much. It represents many universal themes about service and collaboration for a higher purpose. And it brings people together for nourishment. I hope you will join me making soup. I’m not talking about recreating a Norman Rockwell painting of soup-making or following elaborate instructions from Julia Child. You do not need a pot or a recipe or a spouse chopping carrots. You can make soup with your community, your co-workers and your family when you collaborate, serve and find your own soup metaphor.
Mary Jane Evink is director of instructional services for Grand Haven Area Public Schools.