PORTLAND - As the days get darker, colder, and wetter hot soup sounds pretty inviting. A homemade pot of soup can be healthy, economical, and delicious. But by day four, it can also get kind of boring. Food writer Deena Prichep found that across the Northwest, people are coming together to get more mileage out of the humble bowl of soup.
Soup Swaps like this one in Portland, Ore. allow people to get more mileage out of the humble bowl of soup. Photo by Deena Prichep.
Soup swappers bring six quarts of their favorite home made soup and leave with six quarts of what others have made. Photo by Deena Prichep.
A few years ago, Seattle tech consultant Knox Gardner made a big pot of soup, and got a little sick of eating it. So he decided to get a few friends together for a trade.
Knox Gardner: "My original idea was that it would be some loud, boisterous kind of event, where you would trade three of my corn chowders, because you know I'm an awesome cook, for, you know, one of your minestrones."
This was the beginning of Soup Swap. As you can imagine, the math on this laissez-faire approach didn't work too well. So Gardner came up with some guidelines.
Knox Gardner: "You bring six quarts, and then draw numbers and go around the room six times until everybody gets all new soups."
In addition to a set of rules, Gardner got a website, a national Soup Swap day in January, and some Internet hype from food bloggers. And now, it's spreading across the country. There are swaps with hand-foraged mushroom chowder, and swaps showcasing Velveeta soup.
Here in Portland, Jon Van Oast and Megan Kelley invited a dozen friends to a Soup Swap on a chilly Sunday. People started by sharing their stories, a little ritual Gardner calls "The Telling of the Soup." Some recipes came from the Internet, and some, like Christina Kellogg-Gratschner's fruit soup, were family traditions.
Christina Kellogg-Gratschner: "Fruit soup is something that my mom would make out of all her home canning pears, peaches, whatever she happened to have. And she'd cook it up with a little bit of cornstarch, and pour it on whole wheat toast."
Swappers then went around the circle, choosing their six quarts. People were definitely excited to leave with a variety of soups…especially those balancing busy lives. Stacy Meyer teaches fifth grade, and scrambles to fit cheap and healthy meals into her schedule.
Stacy Meyer: "I will admit to having the breakfast-for-dinner kind of thing, that's happened before. And so being able to have a ready-made dinner in the freezer helps out quite a bit."
According to Boston University economist Juliet Schor, people are increasingly coming together for these sorts of informal swaps. In her latest book, Plenitude, Schor says the economic downturn has made more people open to the idea of swapping. And besides, it's just a lot easier to do these days:
Juliet Schor: "In the past, if you wanted to organize some kind of a neighborhood swap or sharing scheme, you'd have to go around and call the people in the neighborhood, knock on their doors, etc. So there's a lot of what economists call transactions costs. With the Internet, that's drastically reduced."
And Schor says that once these swaps do come together, they reinforce connections between people. It's what economists and sociologists call "social capital." And Schor says communities with strong social capital work better.
Juliet Schor: "Soup may seem like a small thing, but it may turn out that your sharing network is very important to you if you lose your job, if your housing is in jeopardy. You're going to have these folks to rely on."
Founder Knox Gardner has seen a rise in Soup Swap activity every year, as more groups start up. He agrees the Internet and economy have definitely helped, but it's also because of the soup.
Knox Gardner: "I think that there's something really fundamental that happens when people bring food together to share it. Soup's like the ultimate soul food."
But of course, Gardner doesn't want you to take his word for it. He wants you to host a soup swap of your own.
Copyright 2010 Northwest News Network
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Deena Prichep writes about food at mostlyfoodstuffs.blogspot.com.