a bunch of different soups!
(Lindzy Ramos | Daily Trojan)

If you were anywhere in Los Angeles last week, you probably heard someone looking up at the sky and saying “we needed it” as rain flooded the city. Like any good Californian, I took the rain as a sign to make soup. In my case, I made a vegetarian chili pot filled with beans, hot spices, and fall vegetables.

As I let the steam from the chilli cloud my glasses, I thought about how the soup crosses cultural barriers. From ramen to soup to matzo dumplings, every community has its own version of the soup. For a food to have such a dominant global presence, there has to be magic.

My favorite soup has always been my mother’s kadhi, a deliciously tangy soup made with chickpea flour, yoghurt and a plethora of spices. Whenever kadhi is on the table, we finish our meal by filling our plate with whatever is on the table and drowning it in kadhi. When you mix kadhi with rice, lentils, and vegetables, it turns those separate pieces of a meal into a complex blend of flavors and textures that blend together.

The magic of soup is its ability to create something greater than the sum of its parts. This collection of spices, vegetables, lentils and meats turns into a comforting meal. Whether you grew up eating okra or borscht, you know the transformative power of good soup.

Just as soup brings ingredients together, it also brings people together. Considering the number of ingredients that go into most soups, the average soup recipe is much more than one serving. Even a standard can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup serves at least two people.

Making soup is an invitation to create community at a time when human connection has become a scarce resource. In a 2020 survey, 36% of American adults said they felt lonely “frequently”, “almost all the time or all the time” – 43% of young adults saying the coronavirus pandemic had made them feel even more isolated .

Given its adverse health effects, loneliness is a developing epidemic in the 21st century. Chronic loneliness increases the likelihood of developing heart disease, stroke, weakened immune systems, depression, anxiety, long-term disability, and a variety of other health issues.

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 stay in touch with the ones we love, but it often replaces more meaningful interactions. Rather than monitoring each other, we rely on Instagram stories and BeReal comments to keep our community alive.

A recent study showed that around a third of people communicate less frequently with loved ones since following them on social media. Although social media can be a powerful tool to help us maintain our relationships, the separation of screens can make it more difficult to maintain vulnerable and honest communication.

Not only does this diminish the quantity and quality of our interactions, but it also fuels our insecurities. Social media is a space of constant comparison, where we see the best moments from parties we weren’t invited to and the people we can never become.

These comparisons manage to make us feel alone in our loneliness. As we watch the people we follow have the best days of their lives, we feel like our lives are uniquely miserable, as if no one else is going through those same moments of grief or anxiety.

Social networks often keep us apart, but soup brings us closer. It’s a classic remedy that even Instagram can’t defeat.

Soup is a dish best prepared for a group; it encourages us to make room for the people we love. It promotes those moments of laughter and food at the table when we feel most connected and loved by the people around us.

Food ensures our bodies continue to function, but soup ensures our need for connection is met. Soup is the perfect opportunity to invite those around us, from lifelong bonds to newly developed acquaintances, to find warmth in a bowl of pho and friendship.

There are few things that have the power to soothe our body and soul like soup can. As we feel increasingly disconnected from each other, the healing power of soup is stronger than ever.

Even if it’s not a rainy day, when you feel like social media is dragging you into a downward spiral, a pot of soup and an invitation to dinner can melt insecurities and disconnect.

Reena Somani is a graduate student who writes about food and its social implications. His column, “Good Taste,” airs every other Wednesday.

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