MY SEARCH FOR SOUP

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Submitted Date 03/17/2019
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One of the only foods I can stomach anywhere, anytime is soup. I’ll eat hot soup in the summer or winter. The same goes for cold soup. I’ll eat it out of a bread bowl, a mug, or even a measuring cup. I’ll make soup and then eat the whole batch in one sitting. I like Japanese soup, Thai soup, Indian soup, Russian soup, Ethiopian soup, soup from the East coast, and soup from the West. It always seems to go down easy.

It’s nearly always healthy (except maybe beer cheese soup) and no matter how sick to my stomach I am or how full my stomach is, I can always go for a bowlful. The complication is this - I’m a vegetarian. So, if I’m out and about, getting soup can be a challenge. If I’m at a restaurant and I ask my server about the contents of a particular soup, they tend to pause, roll their eyes and rhetorically offer to “go check.” That’s if I’m lucky. Sometimes they just take their best guess. Now that I’ve got the Alpha-Gal allergy (an allergy to meat spread by ticks - no, it’s a real thing), accidentally ingesting beef products might send me to the hospital.

You might be thinking, “how hard is it to just read the menu?” Most of the time, if the menu says anything more detailed than “soup of the day,” it only mentions the name of the soup and not every ingredient. If there are ingredients listed, good luck finding one that indicates what the base is, like “beef broth” or “chicken broth.”

Let’s take a trip to the grocery store. We’re perusing the soup aisle and roll up on the Campbell’s soup display. There are some obvious choices, like Cream of Mushroom. But I’d better not pick up Golden Mushroom (beef stock and beef fat) or Cream of Cremini and Shiitake Mushroom (beef stock). There’s a Vegetarian Vegetable soup that looks safe, but the Old Fashioned Vegetable soup has beef stock. The Healthy Request Vegetable Soup? Also beef stock. Potato Broccoli Soup contains both chicken stock and chicken broth, (although I don’t know what the difference is between the two).

I don’t mean to pick on Campbell’s. Let’s shop their competitor - Progresso. Their Broccoli Cheese soup has chicken broth and chicken fat. Southwest Style Black Bean & Vegetable has the same problem (to be fair though, they do have a decent meat-free selection).

I think you might be starting to see my point. Soups that may seem vegetarian-friendly on the surface, often contain a base derived from some animal. At least in the grocery store, I can quickly scan the ingredients list. At a restaurant, I’m at the server’s mercy.

Some places, thankfully, are starting to realize my soup-related stomach pains and have taken to labeling their soups accordingly. Chains like Panera Bread and Jason’s Deli clearly mark their vegetarian soup, taking the guesswork and awkward questions out of the ordering process. Depending on what area of the country you’re in, a lot of the small shops will indicate their level of friendly-to-vegetarians as well.

Over the past 23 years, the veggie scene has improved in leaps and bounds. Now, we have vegetarian sections among the frozen meals and non-dairy milks in the coolers. Restaurants serving vegetarian fare are on the rise in some parts of the country. Access to these resources varies largely based on what city you might be in. Austin, Texas for example, caters much more to the non-meat crowd than, say, Amarillo. I’m willing to bet that Brooklyn has more options than Kansas City.

I’m certainly willing to make sacrifices to live a meat-free life and I’ve had plenty of practice at it. I can scan an ingredients list in the blink of an eye and spot a stray bit of bacon a mile away. I’m a fairly competent cook and have an arsenal of recipes at my disposal. I’ve managed to convince most of my family at this point that I’m not going through a phase. And don’t worry - my blood tests never show a lack of iron or vitamins.

But I just can’t seem to go out very often and get a decent soup. It’s all in the labeling folks. So if you’re a restauranteur or a server, please don’t hate us, vegetarians. Just tell us what’s in the soup.

*photo by Marco Verch via Flickr

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