We have bravely asked many notable public figures if a hot dog is a sandwich, and by and large, we have come up with the answer: No(?), a hot dog is not(?) a sandwich (probably). The question will forever remain in contention as compelling counterarguments are made for its sandwich-ness. But the internet has taken this philosophical debate far beyond encased meats to ask a bigger, broader question: Is cereal soup?
Henceforth, I will sum up the arguments of the internet’s foremost thought leaders, in hopes of determining definitively whether cereal is, indeed, a type of soup.
Why cereal could be considered soup
Even skeptics can admit there are similarities between the steaming savory bowls we know as soup and the morning mixture known as cereal. Here are a few:
- Both are bowl foods, unable to be eaten without a bowl
- Both must be consumed with a spoon
- Both feature a liquid consistency interspersed with solid chunks (or, in the case of oatmeal and chili, the consistency of mush)
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Why cereal is not a soup
When one suggests that cereal might be soup, most people cry out, “No!” Here are some reasons people cite for why cereal cannot be considered soup. These are assumptions and not official definitions.
- Soup should be hot
- Soup is made of cooked ingredients
- Soup ought to be savory
- Soup is not breakfast
To each of the main arguments outlined above, there is a counterargument to be made:
- Cold soup: Haven’t you heard of gazpacho?
- Raw soup: the raw food craze encompasses many soups
- Sweet soup: It’s corn. As in, sweet corn soup. I’ve also had strawberry soup.
- Breakfast soup: Breakfast can be anything you want, and to mandate otherwise is just diet culture BS, guys.
But what is soup?
Merriam-Webster defines soup as:
1. a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food
2. something (such as a heavy fog or nitroglycerine) having or suggesting the consistency or nutrient qualities of soup
3. an unfortunate predicament
Now, pay attention to the word “especially” in that first definition, which really gets us in a soup (third definition). “Especially” does not mean “always.” It means “usually.” Also, if you look at the second definition, a soup can be something that “suggests” soup. Therefore, the suggestion of soup is soup. Soup is soup because we believe it to be soup. Any questions?
But what is cereal?
From the definition of soup, one might deduce that cereal is soup. However, the Merriam-Webster definition of cereal (the noun form) is as follows:
1. a plant (such as a grass) yielding starchy grain suitable for food
2. a prepared foodstuff of grain (such as oatmeal or cornflakes)
Our usage of “cereal” is most often this second definition, the prepared grain. While some soups contain “foodstuffs of grain,” many if not most soups are not grain. If all cereals are grain, can cereal be soup? Yes. Just like how gazpacho is cold soup and most soup is not cold, cereal can be grain and soup even though most cereal is not grain. However, it must be noted that while cereal is soup, soup is decidedly not cereal, using the logic of “a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square.” The truth that “cereal is a soup” is therefore noncommutative.
Here is where the debate diverges in the yellow wood: The use of the word “prepared” in the definition of cereal. Soup must be liquid. Cereal is not inherently liquid. It is solid. Oats and barley, as well as hearts and stars and rainbows, are solid.
However, when you eat cereal in its traditional “preparation,” you add liquid, much like, with a soup, you involve a broth. The “chicken” in the “chicken soup” is referring to the solid, not the liquid broth.
On the other hand, cereal without milk is still called cereal, whereas chicken soup without broth is plain chicken. Hmm. Much to consider.
The “cereal as soup” debate doesn’t end here
The internet has many feelings on this issue and simply cannot let it go. Lawyers have even gotten involved and make a compelling (if kinda terse) case for “not soup,” while others have been more diplomatic and have simply laid out the evidence so as to let the people choose. I’m not sure popular vote should be the way to decide this one, but Mashed cited a now dead poll which stated that 64% of people believe cereal to be soup.
One persistent issue is that not all dictionaries define soup and cereal the same way. If you mix and match dictionaries, you get into trouble. The real question is, which is the definitive food dictionary? Well, that depends on if you consider yourself more of prescriptivist or descriptivist, and we don’t have time for that debate today.
Some people in the comment sections and forums, still angry at the idea of cereal being soup, cite the “spirit of soup” as the reason for their dissent.
“If I open a can of beans and pour milk on it, is it soup?!” my friend yelled at me.
To that I would say yes. It doesn’t have to be good to be soup. See definition two: The suggestion of soup is soup. My friend didn’t like that. There is no irrefutable logic in the “spirit” argument, but there is undeniable passion, and following one’s heart is, of course, important in completely unimportant philosophical debates such as these.
So, final answer: Is cereal soup?
Cereal eaten from the box is not soup. Cereal eaten with milk from a bowl is soup. Dry grains like raw oats are not soup. Cooked oatmeal is soup. Cereal is both soup and not soup. Schrödinger’s breakfast. This is the answer. Sorry it’s not more clear—that would be a consommé.
If you did make me the ultimate judge (you should not do that) and I were to make a ruling based on all the evidence, I could not in good conscience say that cereal is soup, due to the fact that I have eaten dry cereal on occasion, and because I have used oats to make things that are not oatmeal, such as cookies. Since cereal is not always soup, cereal is not soup. Sorry for landing us all in the soup.