Point/Counterpoint: Is soup a meal?

Photo: zepp1969 (iStock)

The second-greatest soup debate of our time reenters the collective consciousness around this time each year. As the calendar page turns to November, we turn to the bowls simmering on our stove and ask: Soup, are you a full meal? Or merely the prelude to one, or a side dish, or a supporting actor in a culinary drama that must also involve bread or a salad? Our staff won’t let soup’s slippery nature bewilder us any longer.


Soup is not a meal

by Kate “Where’s that bread?” Bernot

Stew is a meal. Ramen is a meal. Soup and a grilled cheese is a meal. So while soup can be part of a meal, if you invite me over to your house and serve me one single, solitary bowl of soup—sans accoutrements—I’ve got the Dinner Party Police on speed dial. There’s simply not enough in soup, even a hearty chicken noodle, to carry a full meal. I at least need a substantial dinner roll or a slice of rustic bread swiped with butter to feel satiated. Do not come at me with your thimble-sized packet of oyster crackers.

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Soups can be hearty, I know—earthy lentil, smoky sweet pea and ham, bold pasta e fagioli. But even setting aside the fact that there is not enough solid food inside a soup to be a meal, psychologically, a mere bowl of soup feels incomplete. When I eat a meal, I expect to take bites and dig in, not sip it daintily by the teaspoonful after blowing on it.

Is SO a meal

by Allison “Do better at soup” Robicelli

As to the first argument: What kind of person would serve soup for a dinner party? That’s a terrible menu choice, just like serving stew, salads, or sandwiches. Dinner parties are for things like roast chicken and beef wellington, not some sad-ass soup. The opening argument is therefore invalid because it is less about soup, and more a person not comprehending the concept of dinner party in itself.

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Second is the assertion that a supper of soup is scarcely substantial, a supremely silly quibble to squabble. Are you sure you’re using a big enough bowl? The ones that come in dinnerware sets are sized for the second course of a seven-course soiree, so I suppose your soup sadness is simply the subject of a sense of small scale. Get yourself a sensible soup bowl.

Lastly: The idea that soups—even chicken noodle!—do not contain “enough solid food” to qualify as a meal. To this I posit that if your chicken noodle soup is not hearty, then you, my friend, are bad at making chicken noodle soup. It contains all the food groups in one bowl: vegetables, chickens, noodles, and dairy, too, since I make my broth with Parmesan cheese. Having a lot of stuff in the broth does not mean it’s a stew: Stews are made of larger-cut ingredients that are cooked over low heat for a long period of time, and soups have no firm rules outside of “put stuff in broth and then eat it.” You can put a little bit of stuff in your soup, or a lotta bit of stuff in your soup. If you want something light and sippable, perhaps for an opening course or a light snack, then by all means treat yourself to a light delicate consommé. But if you’re looking for a meal and can’t find it, then you need to ask yourself: Is the problem with soup, or is the problem with me?

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Do I need to spend the winter teaching you all how to properly make soup? Because no one should be having these sort of soup problems.

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About the author

Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.

Allison Robicelli

Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, host of The Robicelli Argument Clinic Podcast, the author of three books, and a swan meat influencer.