In this time when “red” and
“blue” America are barely talking to each other we need
something to bring us together. Some purple Borsht might be just
the trick.

Zack Denfeld

I am, according to the crazy people who let me into this school,
an artist by trade. I have an idea to revolutionize American
culture, and it involves soup. Lots of it. I want to reheat the
American melting pot, using recipes as a catalyst.

I would look to the National Endowment for the Arts for funding,
but some non-soup-loving congressmen, will just have a field day
and say “soup is not art, it is barely even food, it’s
more of a beverage,” and then try to dismantle the entire
national-cultural funding system, even though it is already
pathetically miniscule, compared to almost any other country on
earth.

So in the interest of getting money, and not dealing with bean
counters, (unless they are counting lima beans, for soup!) I am
going to apply to the National Endowment for the Humanities. They
don’t care so much what you do with your money, because
politicians don’t have time to read books. Plus, I will just
say that soup is the culinary equivalent of jazz. Those NEH people
love statements like that.

My plan is to travel across all 50 states, talk to folks, read
and listen to some histories and then choose 50 state soups. Then
each week I will go the capital of a state and make huge 10-foot
vats of the state soup and hand it out to everyone that wants some.
If I run out, we can go down the street to someone’s house
and cook some more. Because the soups will be announced each week
for a year, the state soup unveiling will always-on the TV news.
There is at least one slow news day each week, and what could be a
better photo op. than some crazy eccentric perched atop a 10-foot
vat of soup?

Having a state soup is a good idea because it:

1. Re-asserts a sense of place. It may not single-handedly
prevent the continued Wal-Marting of America, and the McDonalds and
Wal-Marts already in every state will start selling the state soup,
but most travelers on state soup tours would want to seek out the
local restaurants that sell it.

When I am on a cross-country band tour a main part of my
itinerary would be to identify the best soup-cooking spot in each
city. And this would lead to conversations, friendships and
(hopefully) places to stay.

2. It emphasizes true cost economics. By picking soup recipes
that call for locally grown and available produce, state citizens
will be more inclined to seek out and buy from local vendors, and,
hopefully organically grown, family-owned farms. Why would this
happen? I don’t know, but go talk to a neo-classical
economist about positive and negative externalities in relation to
culture and rational choice, and then make him some soup from stuff
you grew in your backyard. Then tell him it’s the state soup,
and to stop being autistic.

3. It creates temporary communities. Even tough-as-nails New
Yorkers will melt with the warmth of hearty Manhattan Clam Chowder
being sold everywhere. The first Monday of every month should be
national soup night. Entire urban renewal art and culture events
could be built around soup. Let’s face it, suburbanites
won’t always come into urban centers for culture, but they
sure will for food, especially if it’s free!

Obviously, some people are going to be angered by my decisions.
For example, what Midwestern state do I give beer soup to?
Wisconsinites may think they are the obvious choice, but
that’s not necessarily the case.

It is a lot harder than it seems, I wouldn’t just name
state soups willy-nilly. New Englanders generally get along in
their cold-as-ice kind of way, but I would hate to set off a war
between Massachusetts and Rhode Island by ceding either of them
Clam Chowder. We may have to flip a coin for it, and the other one
can just take Tobacco soup or something.

Also, vegetarians and citizens with allergies of many sort will
be mad if they cannot eat their own state soup. But this is where
the obligatory artistic “controversy” comes in. The
can’t-eat-nuts society of America will picket some of my
events, and that will add a nice confrontational element for
journalists who only see newsworthiness in conflict. And then
later, we will compromise, and I will release alternative recipes
with meat and allergen substitutes.

Maine would get Lobster Bisque. Louisiana would obviously get
gumbo. Idaho would probably get cream of potato, Georgia could get
peanut butter soup (one of my all-time favorites), etc.

There are many culinary cultures and histories to take into
account, and I would want to revive some soups long out of favor.
Blessed be the state that gets a soup that no one has tasted in 100
years.

It’s not obvious, but all revolutions start with food.
Spread the word and send me your suggestions for what your home
state’s soup should be. Then go talk to someone you otherwise
wouldn’t over a bowl of something warm and delicious!

 

Denfeld can be reached at
“mailto:zcd@umich.edu”>zcd@umich.edu.

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