If you were anywhere in Los Angeles last week, you likely heard someone look up at the sky and say “we need this” as the city was drenched in rain. Like any good Californian, I took the rain as a sign to make soup. In my case, I made a vegetarian chili pot—full of beans, warming spices, and fall vegetables.
As I let the steam from the chili pepper fill my glasses, I thought about how soup crosses cultural barriers. From ramen to matzo ball soup, every community has its own version of the soup. For food to have such a dominant global presence, there must be some magic in it.
My favorite soup has always been the kadi ami, which is a delightfully tangy soup made with gram flour, yogurt, and a host of spices. Whenever a judge is at the table, we end our meal by filling our plate with everything on the table and dumping it on the judge. When you stir kadhi with rice, lentils, and vegetables, it transforms these separate pieces of the meal into a complex mix of flavors and textures that bleed into one another.
The magic of soup is its ability to create something greater than the sum of its parts. This combination of spices, vegetables, lentils and meat turns into a heart-warming meal. Whether you grew up eating okra or borscht, you know the transformative power of a good soup.
In the same way that soup brings ingredients together, it also brings people together. Given the number of ingredients that go into most soups, the average soup recipe makes more than one serving. Even a standard can of Campbell’s tomato soup serves at least two people.
Making soup is a call to create community at a time when human contact is a scarce resource. In a 2020 survey, 36% of American adults reported feeling lonely “frequently,” “almost or all the time” — with 43% of young adults reporting that the coronavirus pandemic has made them feel more isolated.
Given its harmful effects on health, loneliness is a developing epidemic in the 21st century. Chronic loneliness increases the likelihood of heart disease, stroke, a weakened immune system, depression and anxiety, long-term disability, and a variety of other adverse health outcomes.
In a world full of apps designed to make us feel more connected, we somehow feel more alone than ever. Social media is sold as a way for us to keep in touch with those we love, but it often takes the place of more meaningful interactions. Instead of checking in on each other, we rely on Instagram Stories and BeReal comments to keep our community alive.
A recent study showed that nearly a third of people contact their loved ones less frequently since following them on social media. Although social media can be a powerful tool to help us maintain our relationships, the separation of the screen can make it difficult to maintain vulnerable and honest communication.
Not only does it reduce the quantity and quality of our interactions, but it also feeds into our fears. Social media is a space for constant comparison, where we see the best moments of parties we weren’t invited to and people we could never become.
These comparisons succeed in making us feel lonely in our loneliness. As we watch the people we follow go through the best days of their lives, we feel as if our lives are uniquely miserable, as if no one else has had those moments of sadness or anxiety.
Social media often pulls us apart, but soup brings us together. It’s a classic treat that not even Instagram can beat.
Soup is the best dish for a group. It encourages us to make room for the people we love. It enhances those moments of laughter and nurturing at the dinner table when we feel more connected and loved by the people around us.
Food ensures that our bodies keep functioning, but soup ensures that our need to communicate is met. Soup is the perfect opportunity to invite those around us, from lifelong connections to newly developed acquaintances, to find warmth in a bowl of camaraderie and friendship.
Few things have the power to soothe our body and soul like soup does. As we feel more and more disconnected from one another, the healing power of soup is stronger than ever.
Even if it’s not a rainy day, when you feel like social media is pulling you into a downward spiral, a pot of soup and a dinner invitation can banish feelings of insecurity and disconnect.
Rina Soumani is a graduate student writing about food and its social implications. Her “Good Taste” column runs every Wednesday.