Sing me a song about soup ...

There’s nothing better than good a bowl of soup.  

The teakettle starts to whistle. Ignore it and it begins to screech imperiously: “Come on! Get over here! Make the tea!” Soup in contrast just simmers along as it should, bubbling slowly, boiling only when it gets too hot. Its imperious call is: “I’m done! Time to eat!” But it’s the cook who decides when the soup is ready. 

Cooks often guard the secret of a soup’s flavor, that certain something. Indeed, soup is more than the sum of its ingredients. Soup speaks for itself! People who are good in the kitchen also intuitively know that it is possible to accomplish things through cooking that could never be achieved through verbal effort. In German, if you win someone over, you refer to it as “cooking them up a good meal”, that is, coaxing them into agreeing with something they were previously against.

Eating soup evokes an archaic yet familiar image of human coexistence. The image involuntarily arises of a collective condition, one of warmth and emotions. But let’s compare the teakettle to soup. A quite modern image emerges: “Hiss!” A jet of water pours over some instant soup emptied into a bowl. “Swoosh! Whoosh!” A stressed-out person, probably single, wants something in their stomach immediately. (Half of the soup eaten in Germany today is made from instant powder. Well yes, it’s honto ni benri...)

Soup – it brings back memories. Soup when you were sick – some indefinable glop you couldn’t defend yourself against: “It’s so good for you!” still rings in my ear. Or bread and bacon dumplings in a sad broth ... As a child, it meant having to slurp it up as quickly as possible, since otherwise I wouldn’t get anything else to eat. Soup – a tolerable obstacle to getting more tempting dishes, especially something sweet like apple strudel. From my father’s side I would hear the dark tune of Soup Caspar, from the outdated (but interesting) children’s book Der Struwelpeter. Soup Caspar withered down from being a healthy boy into a “string bean” after only four days of constantly refusing to eat: “I’m not having any soup! No, I won’t eat my soup!” On the fifth day he was already lying in the cemetery. I had some doubts about this drama (what child would be so stupid as to voluntarily starve to death?), but it was so nicely gruesome. And fighting with papa was also not particularly wise. 

As schoolchildren we used to taunt someone who didn’t seem to understand anything: “You splashed up from the noodle soup...!” The humble Austrian noodle soup couldn’t help it, especially when compared to Asian soup. A bland alphabet noodle soup was served at the canteen of the National Library in Vienna. You came from reading books and were probably supposed to continue reading the soup ... But we actually do read with our mouths when we eat. According to the filmmaker and “cooking professor” P. Kubelka, the palate is a “reading organ.”

My taste has evolved over time; I became a soup lover when I started to look over the edge of my provincial soup bowl. That’s when soup became “sexy”. I had my first French onion soup, fish soup, wine soup with cheese, chestnut soup, borscht ... it was a culinary awakening. I’m even a fan of oatmeal soup, that stomach-pleaser. I’m a soup tiger.

Recently soup has moved from being the starter (in the West) to being the main course. Soup has nearly become a cult thanks to the international spread of Asian dishes such as soba and udon, and especially ramen. The Vietnamese pho has also recently appeared. These all-inclusive meals even include something to drink(!). Noodles, mochi, vegetables, seaweed, fish, seafood or meat, fresh spices ... you can even find fried food in the pot. (Maybe the Viennese will start adding schnitzel to the top of soup soon...)

And we sip up the liquid, that long-boiled fluid extract. Can it get any better? Solid food, liquid food, fresh food – even crunchy food. And: It looks pretty appetizing too! Simply super! All you need is a bowl and chopsticks.

Speaking of tools: “Spoon meal” was the original meaning of the word “soup”. It also meant “broth”. Soup was mainly a cereal porridge, more or less liquid. In the Middle Ages, not everyone owned a spoon. The poor, wanderers, also students: if they had a wooden spoon they stuck it into their cap and they carried some kind of vessel, an earthenware bowl. They mostly lived on soup for the poor provided by nuns or monks. In the 18th century there were also soup kitchens organized by public authorities. It was soup made out of flour, a little fat, black beans, lentils, maybe some milk, rarely meat or fish; later it also contained potatoes (a relatively new plant in Europe). Soup was basic everyday nourishment and became a synonym for a meal altogether. Workers were called for morning soup, lunch soup, and (exactly!) evening soup ... Soup around the clock!

It is therefore not surprising that many idiomatic expressions refer to soup. In German, if you eat someone else’s soup it means you are thwarting their plans; to spit in someone’s soup means to really annoy them; thin soup is something that lacks any significance; selfish or uncooperative people are people who cook their own soup. It sounds grim if you have to eat the soup you brought upon yourself: it means you have to bear the negative consequences of your own actions.

The current renaissance of soup kitchens in the form of social-artistic interaction is striking. The many crises of today are alarming people, making them outraged, they are causing societies to drift apart to such an extent that it no longer seems possible to have any common understanding or social synthesis. As a result, small attempts at gift economy are popping up here and there (Marcel Mauss, Die Gabe 1923/1924). The quiet message of soup is: “Get warmed up and be with other people.” At the beginning of 2023, an artist didn’t exhibit his sculptures at the Update Gallery in Bonn, but held a show called “Out with the Rich and the Champagne, In with the Poor and the Soup” – precisely at a place where wealthy people usually buy expensive paintings. On a small scale, he wanted to demonstrate the polarization of the world: Champagne on one side, on the other side, at best, soup. – Also in the winter of 2023, the artist collective YRD.Works initiated the project “Soups”. They invited people to a pavilion set up on the central square of the city of Offenbach and ladled out soup to strengthen a feeling of togetherness. “Soup, a pot, gathering around a social fireplace: metaphors for a society of empathy rather than elbows.”

The project Jahressuppe (year of soup) took place in 2008. For 366 days, a giant soup pot traveled through 13 European countries. Its final destination was the city library in Vienna. At each place the pot stopped, a country-specific soup was made and distributed free of charge. At the end, half a liter of leftover soup was kept and taken to the next country to be added to the new pot of soup ... The project was intended as a manifesto of hospitality between cultures. The last drops were emptied into the Danube as a symbolic act of the soup continuing to flow ...

Soup: a basic food (gut instinct, heartwarming), a universal genius among dishes, a complex liquid multi-layered in taste (a flavor explosion like no other). Soup is food and drink in one, it can potentially contain everything we eat, from meat, fish, and seafood, to vegetables, herbs, and all kind of grains. And spices. Not to forget fruit: citrus, apples, and pears ... Anything goes. 

But wait! It also takes self-control and skill to make soup. It is fascinating how pure transparent stock seems to contain nothing. How are rough ingredients (bones, meat, fish, root vegetables...) transformed into this pure and nuanced extract?

Making soup requires knowledge about ingredients, access to good raw materials, and skill in handling them. It involves countless steps. It takes curiosity and openness to the world that goes beyond one’s regular sense of taste. Creating a new flavor is the ultimate revelation, an epiphany par excellence.

It takes appreciation for the ingredients and the eaters; it is a creation needing empathy and dedication. The cook has to journey along with the soup: What does it need now? What should be added? ... While soup is cooking, the cook has to be mentally within it, as if making soup is alchemy. 

And it requires absolute concentration, acute attentiveness, intense awareness of the various processes going on. It needs fiddling and juggling ... until the cook shouts: “Done!”

We don’t know exactly how the world came into existence (and unfortunately Miller’s 1953 primordial soup theory doesn’t apply...). Nor do we know what holds the world together from within. But at least we do know what holds groups of people together – they are unified by a world made edible: Soup!

Karin Ruprechter-Prenn 
Translation from the German: Cynthia Peck-Kubaczek



The poetry of metabolism

What do food and fashion have in common? The first thing that comes to mind might be images of malnourished models and anorexic women who don’t eat because of prescribed ideals of beauty. But if you look at fashion from another perspective, from the context of clothing and not as a system, very different material connotations and implications become visible. The focus of Edwina Hörl’s collection “Soup” is the relationship between internal and external “metabolic processes”, processes of transformation that are in and on the body. There is a link between internal and external metabolism, between chemical-organic transformation and design-based artistic transformation: Both give the body its shape and form. For the interface between food and clothes, Edwina Hörl uses soup as a metaphor, something whose flavors and aromas, essential nutrients, sensual and aesthetic qualities only unfold in the blending of its individual elements.

And so the focus is on the body, its active forces, its inner and outer worlds of experience. For Edwina Hörl, the interaction between certain foods or between certain pieces of clothing are examples of transformative processes in and on the body. In her “Reset Couture”, she has re-fashioned models from various collections into new unique and re-contextualized pieces. In the spirit of environment-friendly recycling, she has created new designs in a transformative process that uses crossovers of materials, patterns, and function which expand on the garment’s original purpose. And in the “harubarutei” T-shirt series, part of the S.a.n.a.e collection, Edwina Hörl brings together the worlds of cooking and fashion design. In memory of her late husband Sanae, legendary chef of the harubarutei ramen restaurant in Tokyo/Kyodo, the series not only aims to revive the soups and dishes he created, but also to tell their stories. The interactive production process was based on conversations with regulars at the restaurant, as well as anecdotes about individual ingredients. Ingredients, dishes, preparation techniques and methods – like pieces of clothing, models, materials, styles and designs – are related to certain creation and production processes influenced by socio-political characteristics and cultural history. They are the carriers/bodies of stories. In both realms, food and fashion, a major role is played by how individual elements are selected and combined, by references to everyday events, social phenomena, and time periods, as well as by transformative potential. Here, metabolism is representative of both organic and creative transformation processes.

In view of climate change and the destruction of the environment, adaptable or degradable products have become increasingly important, as has recycling, circular economy, and above all, degrowth. This means that products need to be durable and have innate value, they need to be enjoyed and cherished. This conserves natural resources, labor, and energy. It can also interrupt the exploitation chains of fast fashion and fast food produced in environmentally destructive processes aimed at fast-moving consumption. This kind of change happens at both the conscious level and the physical level; the two cannot be separated. In the spirit of the degrowth movement, if we assume that there are already enough products in the world, how should we deal with what already exists? What new forms of recycling and truly environmentally friendly production do we need? How do we move beyond the compulsive myth of growth? Only when quick growth, quick profit, and quick consumption are no longer propagated as socio-political goals and subjective values will we have a chance to distance ourselves from the economic regime currently ruling our lives. Our perception and behavior will only change if we stop seeing our metabolic basis for survival as amassing products, but as the interaction between individual components and agents.

Collected in the nutrients in soup are the many substances that support the body best in its metabolic processes: growing, staying healthy, protecting the immune system, maintaining well-being and enjoyment, etc. These natural processes mirror ecological processes; in turn, ecological processes cannot be separated from social processes. Just as food choices define the body from the inside, clothing defines and protects the body from the outside. The interaction and interdependence of individual components and actors are part of a circulatory system, a system in which we must again find our place.

Sabine Winkler
Translation from the German: Cynthia Peck-Kubaczek




listen to the soup

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