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Building a Community With a Warm Bowl of Soup

by on November 20, 2013 6:40 AM

A few months after my daughter was born a neighbor remarked that she hadn't even known I was pregnant.

This didn't surprise me. The last trimester of my pregnancy began in March, and when I did go outside, my bulge was concealed by a bulky winter coat. Yet the remark bothered me.

Without the warm weather to bring us outdoors or the holidays to bring us together, we hibernate when it gets cold. We make plans with friends, but those chance encounters on the street are limited to those of us with dogs.

People change jobs, neighbors move in and out, families grow and shrink and others face sickness, tragedy and loss while, within our own four walls, we enjoy and endure our own triumphs and defeats. We occupy the same street, and may as well live on different planets.

I recently came across a book that proposed a different scenario. In "Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup," author Maggie Stuckey highlights communities that get together once a month or several times a year to share conversation and a bowl of soup.

"Soup Night," one man remarks in the book, "has created a place rich in grace and kindness."

"It's impossible to overstate how valuable it is," another is quoted as saying. "It fills your soul."

My favorite part of this idea is the lack of pretense or pressure. Per the rules laid out by the author, the host does not need to clean. He or she makes two pots of soup — one meat, one veggie — and everyone brings their own bowl, spoon, and bottle of wine, beer, soda or, in the case of the get-togethers that occur in my own wonderful neighborhood, mason jars of bourbon.

Bring dessert or homemade bread, too, but only if you feel like it. Or just bring yourself. No judging allowed. There shouldn't even be pressure to host. Some people have big houses or love to cook. Others just like to eat soup.

Many of my favorite winter meals are soup recipes. Butternut squash with maple syrup. Red lentil with lemon juice. Sweet potato, peanut butter and kale stew. Soup isn't pretentious or expensive. It's forgiving, meaning you can throw in just about any vegetable or spice without messing up the recipe.

You can use everything in your farm share or farmers market purchase in one recipe. And it's divine on a winter evening, filling you with warmth. Soup is the meal you don't even realize you're craving until you're holding the steaming bowl in your hands.

My son overheard me talking about this the other day and gave me a look that typically comes from teenagers, not eight-year-old boys who still think it's ok to snuggle with stuffed animals. "C'mon, mom, a soup club? Really?"

It made me think of how lame I thought my own parents were when they would get together with other grown-ups to just talk or share a good meal. But while my own kid may never admit it, he loves the notion of getting our friends and neighbors together.

Soup night gets people out of their houses at a time when even people who aren't living on their own can feel the melancholy that sets in when our bodies are deprived of Vitamin D and human interaction. The point is to restore a sense of community with an evening that transcends age, religion or food preferences. (Vegans, vegetarians, and meat lovers can all get along when the meal is soup, especially if there are two pots on the stove.)

The kids don't even have to eat the soup. They can play in the basement, and show up when the dessert surfaces. Meanwhile, the adults can indulge in something that's missing from too many meals: permission to eat slowly, to linger and actually enjoy what we're eating.

Depending on the number of people who show up, you may end up propped up against a wall in the hallway. Stuckey says elderly people should always get a seat. I think everyone else should stand. It's better for your digestive system, and you'll be more likely to end up in a conversation with someone you've never met before. You may even learn they're pregnant.



Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of StateCollege.com. Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MMStateCollege or contact her at [email protected]
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