Nuts to Soup?

A recent Wonkblog post looked at the drop in supermarket soup sales and asked the question: “Is America Over Soup?”

And concluded, Maybe, but maybe not:

Campbell’s soup figures, though, may be deceptive. Soup is actually selling well elsewhere: People are opting for organic and non-GMO lines from companies like Pacific Foods and Amy’s, while grocery stores are offering more and more private label varieties. Frozen soup sales were up 17 percent in 2012, General Mills’ Progresso soups have gobbled up market share with a boomer-friendly healthful message, and fast-casual restaurants — some soup-only! — carry the perception of quality (even if they’re just reconstituted from the same powdered stuff that goes in cans).

“The soups served in Panera and Au Bon Pain benefit from the consumer perception that they are fresher as well as from the accompaniment of freshly-baked bread,” Euromonitor wrote in a January report. The “freshness” fetish also affects juices; Campbell’s V8 line took an even bigger dive than soups, as consumers go for just-squeezed over shelf-stable.

What surprised me in the post, was that it was never considered that maybe more Americans are making soup from scratch. It seems the natural extension of that impulse to freshness and quality. Given both that we are 5 years into the worst economic downturn since the 30’s and 20 years into a renaissance in American cooking that has increased on a log scale the during the last decade, it seems a reasonable variable to consider.

That hypothesis turned out to be harder to test than I expected. Then only recent polling only offered a snapshots, nothing about changes over time. Neither CBS or Harris asked the same questions over time to get an accurate sense of the change over time. A May 2012 Harris poll did find 71% of respondents saying that they were cooking more at home to save money.

And this from Danny Meyer’s summary of last year’s Cooking Matters poll:

Seventy-eight percent of families reported cooking and eating dinner at home five or more nights a week (on average they reported eating takeout or at a restaurant less than once a week.) The typical breakdown of a week included four dinners made from scratch, two made at least in part from packaged foods like boxed macaroni and cheese, or boxed flavored rice, and one fast food dinner. Note this: the lower a family’s income, the more they cooked from scratch.

But between the recent increases in both American’s shopping at farmers markets and the 47 million Americans trying to make due with a diminished SNAP allotment, it’s worth pointing out that scratch made soup is far and away the best way to stretch your food dollar and to put all those random farmer’s market vegetables to good use.

Soup is the grand champion for putting scraps and odd bits to good use. Keep a bucket or a bag in your freezer for collecting onion skins, carrot peels and other vegetable scraps and herb stems. Keep another for bones and meat scraps. Simmer what you’ve saved for a few hours to make a simple, flavorful broth. Simmer what you have on hand in that broth, and ‘Baby, you you’ve got a stew going.’ Potatoes, yams, cabbage, carrots, dried beans, frozen vegetables, canned tomatoes: all dirt cheap, all perfect for soups and stews.

Carl Weathers may have said it best:

When researching how to cook something, I always start at Saveur. Here’s the link to their collection of soups and stews. The recipes may not always be the simplest or the cheapest, but they are always sound and almost always the best, most authentic recipe for a given dish. Remember, you can always simplify and substitute. Especially with soups and stews.

My secret weapon for flavorful, easy cooking on the cheap is something we call The Singularity in my household. It’s essentially caramelized bacon and onion confit. Cheap, easy and intensely flavorful, it improves nearly anything it comes into contact with. The name came about because I had started cooking it without a plan and just kept going and going until we thought we might collapse the universe if we went any further.


1 Lb. Bacon ends and pieces, chopped
6 Medium yellow onions, chopped

Add bacon to crockpot. Allow to render while chopping onions. Add onions with out stirring. After 20 minutes or so stir onions and bacon together. Stir every 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cook for 5 – 10 hours. You will need to stir more frequently after 4 or 5 hours to prevent onions from burning on the side.

“Is America Over Soup?” | Lydia DePillis | The Washington Post | November 20, 2013
Seven in Ten Americans Cooking More Instead of Going Out to Save Money | Harris Interactive | May 16, 2012
Three in Ten Americans Love to Cook, While One in Five Do Not Enjoy It or Don’t Cook | Harris Interactive | July 27, 2010
How And Where America Eats | Sean Alfano | CBS | November 20, 2005
How Americans Eat Today | CBSNews | January 12, 2010
Cut in Food Stamps Forces Hard Choices on Poor
| Kim Severson and Winnie Hu | The New York Times | November, 7 2013
Wait. So People Are Cooking? | Daniel Meyer |The New York Times | February 1, 2013


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About Marc Brazeau

Free lance cultural attaché. Writing at REALFOOD.ORG.

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