Let me start by saying I’m no puritan. I’ve been known to have a bit of a devilish tongue. From time to time, my thoughts have maybe even breached the boundary of what one considers “unwholesome.” So I write here not to litigate, judge, or certainly censor, but rather advise: Don’t eat soup in public. It’s disgusting.
This isn’t a clever, sly, in-crowd euphemism. No, I mean this literally: Don’t eat soup–or bisque, or chowder, or even chili below a certain viscosity–in public. I know that we’re steadily approaching winter. I know you’re cold and hungry, maybe even parched, and that soup–that dietary utility player–seems like the solution to all of your problems. Do it. Go buy some soup. I respect your choice as a consumer.
But I don’t respect your right to consume that slop in my general vicinity. Much like electricity, water, and internet prior to next month, we should treat a genial lunchtime–one without neighbors interrupting conversations every ten seconds with a puckering minestronal SCHLURPPP–as a utility. We should respect the sanctity of the public dining table, be it in the office, the cafe, or the food court, and refuse to besmirch it with some pud who has to furiously blow (look at him, he’s NURTURING THE SOUP) on his disgraced slurry to make it palatable.
I’m spilling no secrets when I say soup has inherent structural flaws. Once soup has become the right temperature, it is then too cold. To eat enjoyably, soup requires a mechanic’s tinkering, a Buddhist’s patience. Its fluidity necessitates the manual precision of a calligrapher–better yet, of a sculptor–to put the liquid into its vessel; the final transfer, likewise, begs Dizzy Gillespie’s lung capacity and embouchure to avoid disaster.
That’s before getting into the etiquette for eating soup–the delicate coiffing of the spoon away from oneself, the dizzying heights the spoon must rise before one can dip one’s head to meet it. It is a hopeless, frantic extraction that inevitably ends in dripping, slobbering imperfection. Yes, there are “proper” ways to eat soup. But there’s no way to eat soup and retain one’s dignity. If you engage in this act in my line of sight, I’m afraid I can no longer respect you.
The truth is, when eating soup, you’re consuming a scalding liquid from a height at which liquid shouldn’t be consumed. There’s a reason drinks arrive in graspable, vertical containers. There’s a reason drinks, McDonald’s coffee aside, invariably arrive within an acceptable range of temperatures. Most food and drink make sense; soup doesn’t. (That sentence also presents a tertiary sub-argument against soup, that your public consumption of it will invite the galling, faux-intellectual pondering of whether one “eats” or “drinks” soup. The correct answer is neither: When having soup in public, one “burdens society.”)
Perhaps this take comes across as elitist. After all, public soup kitchens are a great, necessary service. For others, soup is simply an economical option, the most rational budgetary choice. Surely, Lucas, you’re not advocating these soup-buyers are forced to languish alone, shamefully downing their entrees in solitude whilst the Paninarazzi gaggle together in unfettered gaiety?
My response is three-pronged: First, my advice is mainly targeting those foodies in Corporate America, for whom I am skeptical that soup is always the cheapest option: take Panera Bread, for example, where soups, salads, and half-sandwiches are priced equivalently in the “Pick 2” menu, despite the caloric deficits that soups offer. Second, I think a large-scale coordination of purchasing decisions can change the way in which we consume soup. Should bowls become cylindrical? Should spoons be replaced with very wide straws? Should we revive Juicero by reducing every soup to its late-capitalism, inevitably all-liquid state? These are the questions we need to be asking.
Third, soup consumption can be inoffensive in public–but only when undergone unanimously. When the souping is wholly communal, that is, when everyone is being disgusting, there is no dignity to be claimed, no pearls to be clutched. It is a barbaric experience and roundly objectionable to an outsider, but in the absence of none claiming offense, the outrage is vaporous like the famous Zen koan: the sound of one hand clapping back.
In that way, we need to treat eating soup like eating peanuts–hazardous in public. You can eat whatever repulsive things you want–however you want–in the privacy of your own home. But, please, as you go about your day, SCHLURPPP on this: As soon as you step outside, once you start eating soup, you start affecting people’s lives.