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When In Doubt, Make Soup

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One night a few months ago, two friends and I were feeling the onset of winter doldrums, and made a plan to address it with soup.

We had come together for some activity I no longer recall (movie? board game?) but everyone was feeling pretty low. Each of us was clearly addled by one or more ongoing life-woe—angst over relationships, money, health, aimlessness. Nobody wanted to ruin the evening by dumping their laundry on the floor, but it was obvious that we all needed to talk to someone.

So we made a plan to get together, on a different night, to do just that. Somebody would make a big pot of soup, then while we dined, each person would have a chance share their current struggles, and the rest of the group would listen and try to help.

This get-together could function as a kind of support group, only without the intense stranger-vibe of sitting in a folding-chair circle with fourteen anonymous people in a church multi-purpose room.

It would take the form, instead, of a humble dinner with two or three people you already know. But unlike other social get-togethers, you’d be free to bring up what’s really on your mind, knowing you’ve got a safe and supportive audience for it.

Why soup? Well, it’s something people can gather around. It’s easy to make. It’s warm, nourishing, inclusive, and simple.

I don’t remember which one of us coined the phrase, “Soup-port group,” but it stuck.

We’ve been doing it ever since, every few weeks. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in, and I think it should be happening everywhere. People need to talk, but there aren’t many places to do that. So we made one.

A Typical Soup-port Evening

We’ve always had three or four people, which seems ideal. Someone hosts, and someone makes a big pot of soup. Usually everyone brings something to round out a light meal—a salad, a loaf of bread, a tin of dessert treats. Once somebody brought a bottle of port, to great applause.

We usually chat for a bit before dinner, about ordinary stuff: what we’re reading or watching, weekend plans, deals on avocados.

Then we sit down to eat. Soup, bread, salad, sometimes wine. The spread is always comforting but never fancy.

While we enjoy the meal, whoever wants to share their woes or dilemmas with the group can just begin. “So, Soup-port, here’s what’s on my mind…”

We just talk, and listen. The goal is to offer support, perspective, and some rejuvenating social contact—not to aggressively problem-solve.

The soup itself is essential to the spirit of it. It keeps the tone right: humble, warm, and easygoing. A group based on hors d’oeuvres would evoke all the wrong qualities: order, ostentation, class-consciousness. Even the potluck-standard spinach-dip-in-a-pumpernickel-loaf would be too theatrical for Soup-port. Organizing the meal around humble peasant food lets everyone relax about everything, protecting against any host- or guest-anxiety.

After dinner—and I think this is a vital step—we set our issues aside and do something else. Play a game, watch a show. Again, nothing fancy.

This embeds the supportive aspect in an evening that’s both pleasant and easy for everyone. I don’t think anybody leaves with their problems resolved, but you do feel cared for, a little more understood, and grateful for the wisdom of other people.

Can Anyone Do This?

Soup-port is already a big success, and has even garnered a bit of buzz among our friends and families. I’ve been asked about it at parties.

I think it could really catch on. There’s certainly a demand for what it provides. Just about everyone has something they’d benefit from talking about, but dependable opportunities to do that are hard to come by.

Professional therapy is expensive and exclusive. And while you might have family and friends you can talk to, bringing up your struggles in an ordinary domestic moment isn’t always appropriate, or helpful.

Soup-port creates a regular time and place to let your troubles out of your head, plus you get to help others at the same time. You don’t have to worry about being a drag.

You also get to hang out with great people, and eat soup, both of which are good for you anyway.

It does matter who those people are, of course. They need to be thoughtful, decent listeners, and it’s probably easiest if you’re already friends or acquaintances. However, I can imagine a quartet of good-hearted strangers forming a successful Soup-port group, if they were all willing to be open and receptive. They wouldn’t stay strangers long.

In any case, three or four seems to be the right number of people. Five or more would give each person too much to think about, and it would start to feel like a meeting.

At the moment, ours is the only Soup-port group I’m aware of. Part of me wonders if it’s just an idiosyncratic creation of a few friends who are decent listeners and happen to like both soup and puns. But another part believes there’s room for millions of groups like these.

People need to talk, maybe these days more than ever, and this is one way to create that opportunity for each other.

The essential components—human beings, soup, problems—are in great supply, but when combined in the right way, they produce something rare and widely needed.

***

Do you think this is something that could fit into your life? If enough people are interested, I’d love to put together a resource to help people form their own Soup-Port groups.

In any case, later today I will post recipes for my two go-to soups in the Patreon feed. A curry lentil and a butternut squash.

Photo by Brooke Lark

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{ 61 Comments }

Catrina January 20, 2020 at 11:50 pm

This is a great idea! At my parents’ house, the dinner table was always a place where you could relax, open up and talk about your worries.
However, as an adult, my life has become more hectic and I no longer live at home. Cosy family dinners are no longer part of my daily routine.
This is exactly where a Soup-Port group can fill a void. I think this idea could catch on!

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:10 am

We are hyper-social creatures and our familial groups used to be very large not all that long ago. Now, not only have we drifted from large tribes into small families, but we split apart from those groups as well. But we can always get together if we make a point of it.

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Barb January 25, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Beautiful idea! Thanks! I want to make it happen!

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Marian January 21, 2020 at 2:23 am

Another genius idea from you David! They just keep coming. I can definitely see this becoming a global phenomenon, because there is such a need for it. And anyone can do it. And so simple. Kudos to you. x

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:14 am

Thanks Marian. I hope it does catch on. If it does, I would credit the soup — it makes it memorable and also accessible. Having people over for dinner is stressful because we feel we need to make something special. But anyone can do soup.

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Deborah January 21, 2020 at 2:34 am

What a wonderful thing to do. My husband always says a trouble shared is a trouble double not halved, so an alternative forum sounds like a great plan.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:14 am

Hold on, I need a moment to do the math there…

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DiscoveredJoys January 21, 2020 at 2:38 am

Seems like a great idea, increasing the feelings of brotherhood or sisterhood.

A question for you… are the Soup-port groups mostly men or mostly women? My observation is that young adult to middle age groups tend to be same sex (because sex or relationships are really important in this age), but older aged groups tend to be more mixed (because we are talking about our older kids or grandkids), and elderly groups are mixed by whoever has survived (and talk about our frailties).

But whatever the mix a Soup-port group seems to set the right ‘formalised but informal’ nature of the event.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:17 am

In mine I’m the only man. My circle of friends gets together in inclusive mixes so it’s not something any of us really thought about. I think it could work with a group of any makeup, although I would guess that men would find it harder on the balance to get other men to do this.

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Peter Burton January 21, 2020 at 3:43 am

I really like what you’ve set in motion here, David. I hope you get enough positive response to put together a few guidelines which I’d appreciate receiving. I’d find that very soup-ortive!

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:21 am

Thanks Peter!

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Rocky January 21, 2020 at 4:15 am

You had me at “Soup”……

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:21 am
Kevin January 21, 2020 at 4:37 am

I love this! Too often, we just keep our troubles buried and tough it out. This would be a great way to not only get things off your chest, but likely also hear a solution/perspective you weren’t expecting.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:22 am

Yes. And also just to have the experience of others trying to help, and then the experience of trying to help others. There are many healthy things going on here.

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Andrew January 21, 2020 at 4:43 am

Hello David. I’d just like to add my support. What a simple yet brilliant idea!

Just remembering, we did something similar around our Christmas lunch table – where instead of letting the usual talkative family members dominate, we made sure everyone – including all the kids – had the chance to speak uninterrupted about the topic. It was so much better than our usual chat. Giving the kids the space and time to debate on an equal playing field with the adults was very enlightening!

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:26 am

We have done something similar at family dinners, where we go around and everyone asks a question, which could be anything — “if you could eat one food for the rest of your life…” or something like that — including the kids. It feels really great to have the conversation happen along many more vectors than the usual ones.

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Brenda K Auch January 21, 2020 at 11:42 am

Really love your take on this! It would also be helpful for the introverts who typically get talked over.

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Bryan Harrison January 21, 2020 at 5:47 am

We do Soup Bowl Sunday with another couple every few weeks over the dark winter months. Simple. Comforting. Nourishing. Creative. Healthy. Don’t forget candles or a fire in the fireplace.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:31 am

Winter goes with soup, definitely. I was going to use the Danish word “hygge” in this post, because it is definitely relevant, but I didn’t want to make it seem like it had to be a winter thing. Gathering around warm things inside when it’s cold is a big part of life where I live, but soup-port could work anywhere. I like the thought of gathering around for tom-yum in Thailand.

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Seelan Patricia January 21, 2020 at 6:50 am

Thanks for the post. A group of women friends and I have been doing this for nearly 20 years and we agree with your insights. We manage to meet monthly for this gathering and It’s been a terrific Resource of Support, comfort, ideas (and good food) for all of us.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:31 am

Oh wow, wonderful. What do you usually serve?

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Emkay January 21, 2020 at 6:59 am

What a great idea. As I read I started thinking about people I would invite for soup port.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:33 am

I would just figure out the person most likely to be interested, and talk to them to see if they’re on board, then together find the next most likely interested party, and so on. That way everyone in the group is more likely to cohere with everyone else, as opposed to you becoming a de facto “leader” and trying to get other people to come.

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Ian February 6, 2020 at 8:32 am

In case this is helpful to anyone, this is very similar to Co-Counselling. Co-Counselling International is the main organisation.

Thanks for your work David.

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Kim January 21, 2020 at 8:19 am

Just this month I started a “Task Force” group were we can get together with friends informally and work on little projects we’ve been meaning to tackle. The first one happened to be to finish the caulking around the bathroom console and repainting around the door.
We just happened to have a simple soup that evening as well.
It was a great time, nice and informal way to get together.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 10:38 am

Hey I love that idea. It sounds like things would actually get done that way instead of put off. And the social element would make it a lot more fun.

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Gary Allemann January 21, 2020 at 8:28 am

The Mankind Project mankindproject.org is a global network of non profit organisations that offers a men’s training weekend and follows this weekend up by training men to support each other in similar evenings on an ongoing basis.

A sister organisation exists for women, and there are variations to support teen girls and boys. If you are looking for this kind of support these organisations are worth exploring

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 1:17 pm

That’s great. I wonder if they could incorporate soup in their programming too. The soup-centered does lend a certain accessibility and warmth to what could otherwise be intimidating to people.

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Marii January 21, 2020 at 10:11 am

We don’t do Soup-port, but we just get together to cook each others favourite (not too fancy) dishes and share what’s going on in our lives every month with my friend’s group. It is very chill atmosphere where everyone can talk about whatever is on their mind at the moment.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 1:35 pm

So glad to hear about all of these regular get-togethers. How did this come about, if you don’t mind my asking?

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John January 21, 2020 at 10:19 am

I find that people are so hungry for human contact that they will open up to some of their most sensitive feelings if you just give them a few moments of your undivided attention. For me, this is virtual strangers that I come across in daily life. On the surface, we seem to be very interconnected, but on a deeper level, there is something missing.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 1:34 pm

I agree. As close as we all live in cities, there’s a kind of invisible “stranger wall” that seems to prevent us from connecting. We don’t want to bother people, or freak them out. But I find that in most of the haphazard interactions that do happen, both people are grateful for the connection.

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Brenda January 21, 2020 at 11:07 am

I used to be a part of “Real Love” groups based on the work of relationship author Greg Baer. There were some rules but the gist of it was having a safe place to be seen, heard and accepted as we told “the truth” about our fears and mistakes. Groups were usually 3-10 people, and not everyone shared at length each time. Three or four people does seems more reasonable. Food wasn’t formally part of it, but more often than not the host would have refreshments. Not a whole meal but sometimes soup, or a baked treat. Our Indian friends would often have homemade chai, or rice and lentils with exotic spices. Sometimes the host only offered coffee but that was fine too. Sharing food at the end of the group allowed for less intense conversation and a chance to let the heightened emotions sort of settle down. Nice to hear that others are doing this type of thing. I miss it. A couple of the strangers I met became my most valued confidantes, even above other close friends I’d known longer.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 1:37 pm

Good does serve a kind of deflecting role in conversations that could otherwise be intense. If you picture a dinner conversation, and then mentally remove the table and setting from between the people, it becomes something a lot more intense.

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Geri January 21, 2020 at 11:16 am

David, I LOVED the soup port gig. Actually, I think we pulled this off recently on Orcas Island. I specifically call 4 people and said, I’m leaving soon and I want special time with the 4 of you. I called them the 4 humans of the Apocalypse, and yes. Winnie brought soup and we filled in the blanks. and i was the one who said: OK listen up. I want your incredlbly brilliant support (soup?) on a mater I have to solve. I need your advice.
So I think this is a spot on solution to winter doldrums, just for starters. Thanks. g

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 1:37 pm

Hi Geri. Sounds like the best apocalypse ever!

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Amanda January 21, 2020 at 2:20 pm

The soup-pocalypse!

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Susan Ward January 21, 2020 at 11:18 am

Good morning David,
Such a great idea. I actually was at such a dinner last evening – not Soup-port – but a birthday dinner. This group of six women formed a ‘birthday group’ over ten years ago. One of us hosts, creates a menu, and make the main meal. Except for the ‘birthday girl’ the rest of us bring the rest. We are all now in our seventies. We know a lot of each other’s troubles – knee surgeries, husband with Alzheimer’s, families in other countries….so we become the support with conversation topics that range from which side of tinfoil to use to the political climate – food – movies.. and anything in between. All while we eat, and laugh and share birthday cards. While I was reading I decided that next time I host it will involve soup! Susan

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 5:47 pm

Loving all these traditions. May our species dine together forever :)

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Welmoet January 21, 2020 at 11:19 am

Definitely agree on the value of ’feeding’ community and love the pun— soup-port –
It would fit perfectly in my life. I’m in as a host initially and we’ll see where it leads.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 5:47 pm

I’d love to hear how it goes.

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Soraia Salvador January 21, 2020 at 11:21 am

Amazing idea, love love love it! This is great.

Also to say that Portugal is the place of soup addicts. it is the basis of our diet. There is nothing that complete us more than a soup, and yes we eat it 365 days of the year, no matter the season.

This trend could easily be picked up there eheheh

Thank you for sharing…
Soraia

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 5:59 pm

*books flight*

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Lorrie Beauchamp January 21, 2020 at 11:28 am

David, your insights are always astonishingly timely. Yes, the world needs more “soup-port” groups! I believe the sisterhood has always been good at this, and it should be expanded to be more inclusive and a regular part of all or our lives. I am part of a group of gals (we call ourselves the BrewBunnies; it started as an apres-ski thing, sitting on a deck drinking beer) and we meet for weekends of laughter, sharing intimate issues and light exercise with fresh air. I like the structure you’ve suggested, it shows good balance. The trick is to find the right group of friends, and then you can fashion it in any way that’s convenient.

Honestly, it makes me sad to think that Oprah made her billions by being “everyone’s best friend” in a country where people obviously need more attention. It shouldn’t be monetized, it shouldn’t be a special skill, it should be available to everyone in our society. We are social animals, and we need to commune.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 6:05 pm

These adorably-named groups keep getting better :)

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Eliza Jane January 21, 2020 at 3:41 pm

A thousand times yes! Imagine if there were enough of these around the world, we might be able to find world peace.
A group of four girlfriends and I began a sisterhood several years ago, We came together as caregivers of elderly parents. We sorely needed a place that we could vent and be heard without judgement. Thanks for sharing your brilliant creative mind! Love how you think.

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 6:06 pm

Thanks Eliza. That’s my line of thinking here: the effect on my life at least has been really significant, and if there were millions of these groups, it would make a significant difference on the well-being of the world.

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eema January 21, 2020 at 3:58 pm

love this idea!
food ,sharing, and fun afterward.
brilliant!

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 6:10 pm

It’s kind of like a “support sandwich” where the bread is good times :)

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kiwano January 21, 2020 at 4:01 pm

I’m mildly amused by the post-script on this blog suggesting that resources could be posted to facilitate the creation of such groups — more specifically that my reaction was roughly “wait, isn’t this blog post resource enough? I mean I can send the link to a few likely-to-be-interested friends as part of a ‘Hey, wanna try doing this thing?’ type message and basically end up with such a group, no?”

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David Cain January 21, 2020 at 6:09 pm

You could definitely do that. I was picturing a little standalone PDF that would explain the concept and contain a little how-to, something that wouldn’t be embedded in a personal essay like it is here.

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Tracey L. Yuse January 21, 2020 at 8:55 pm

Awesome! We need the real intimate conversation & trust that we will be supported and not judged. The soup and games/movie/whatever is the perfect backdrop!! Love it and am inspired.. Used to find this in a CODA group but like the small number of people.

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Nat January 21, 2020 at 9:26 pm

This is an excellent idea. Just reading your post makes me feel warm, cozy and nourished

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Jess January 23, 2020 at 6:37 am

Love this idea! Soup-er duper! As you say the informalness and heart-warmingness of soup, which can be prepared ahead of time and takes all the stress out of having to cook a complex meal to “impress”. The sharing honestly and deeply, followed by fun, sounds great. Let’s hope this catches on widely.

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Graham Mcmillan January 23, 2020 at 8:41 am

David, I love the idea! Not being a cook, even a very basic one, can you provide any suggestions for what kind of soups go well? Just the names, recipes are easy to come by.

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David Cain January 23, 2020 at 11:28 am

I think a good guideline is to make something easy that everyone tends to like. Lentil soup can be done all sorts of ways and meet all sorts of dietary needs.

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negin January 30, 2020 at 2:21 am

This is an excellent idea.
love this idea.

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Chris February 7, 2020 at 1:26 pm

This reminds me of the book “Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup” by Maggie Stuckey which is a little bigger in scope, but 3-4 friends seem a lot more doable and easier to handle.

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David Cain February 7, 2020 at 2:30 pm

That sounds wonderful. Thanks for this, I will try to locate a copy.

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Lou February 24, 2020 at 9:14 am

Beautiful article. I love the idea. Your articles always give food for thought and are uplifting. Thank you!

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