On Poetry and Culture Shock

In the soup

Instead of wasting my time and yours making fun of Creationism, I’m going to talk about one of the wonders of human evolution. This is not culture shock or comedy of manners either, but an anthropological observation that I am shamelessly stealing from my father. Hola, Opá.

The most important human achievement is a hard choice between the wheel, fire, and antibiotics. But no one has ever recognised the great merit of the inventors of soup. After the discovery of fire, soup has kept humankind alive to invent and discover everything else.

Think of this: to make soup you need fire, a fireproof container, water, and food that you wouldn’t roast. Can you imagine that first cook? Let’s think it was more than one. There was something juicy inside bones, so they licked them dry. But one day, after the glorious invention of the pot (which was initially a water container, so that you didn’t need to go to the river every time you wanted a drink of water), they took the bones, they threw them in a pot of water, and they put the whole lot on the fire. Ta-da. Soup. They could make inedible things edible, and they could feed people without teeth, like the elderly, and babies that for any reason couldn’t be breastfed, or in the transition to solid food. They would also discover that grains boiled in soup tasted nicer than raw or roasted grains, and again, they were softer and more appropriate to toothless people. Wow.

I can’t imagine a scenario in which soup was “discovered” by chance. Maybe the soaking of bones in cold water was an accident, but you can’t put a pot to the fire by accident. So _maybe_ someone soaked leftover food in cold water because they hoped if would make it softer. They already knew that old food is dry and that dry means hard, therefore wet means soft. The morning after, the whole contents of the pot were heated together because our Hominids liked their food warm. And they discovered that the result tasted really nice, definitely nicer than the raw materials.

If the container is artificial, soup was invented relatively late, maybe in the early Neolithic. If the container was natural, for example an animal’s stomach (or was it a skin?) as William Golding suggests in his novel The Inheritors, this wonderful creation may have been earlier, some time in the late Paleolithic.

I was more reinforced in my belief that soup is the mark of civilisation when I read in the Jewish Museum in New York that owning a spoon in Auschwitz would put the owner at a great risk: an item in the Holocaust section of the Museum was a spoon, that a brave prisoner had hidden on him while in the concentration camp to remind himself he was human.

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