I have a fascination with soup. It’s simplicity, diversity, affordability and the fact that it can be easily cooked outdoors, makes it a winner for me.
When I was a young student, some friends and I engaged in a community theatre project at sixth Form College that we jokingly called “community sandwich”. My love for community connection even then was strong and in some ways I can’t have travelled far since being 17 as this project could almost be called “community soup”! This curious and wild soup project explores the ways that we can use soup to engage our communities outdoors. Soup has a heritage of community nourishment illustrated well in stories like “stone soup” and also in the development of initiatives like soup kitchens. Soup can have a medicinal quality that makes us feel better when we need to rest and recover.
As an outdoor educator I have long used food and cooking as a way to bring people together outside. Soup has a large part to play in that, it is a cheap and healthy meal that can easily be scaled up for groups and endless flavours and embellishments added for all tastes, diets and culinary excitement. All food and drink seems to taste better outdoors but soup is one of those dishes where this feeling is amplified and you always feel warm, nourished and cared for.
There is something of the fairy tale in me too when I cook and share soup outdoors. A huge pot of steaming soup over a fire is an image I feel I have seen and read about many times, soup is folkloric in this sense. Many folk and fairy tales explore themes of hunger, often maybe inspired by historical famine. I have used these stories often in my work, the magic porridge pot, the enormous turnip, hansel and Gretel but particularly stone soup. The stone soup story reminds us that sharing and connecting with your community ensures the nourishment, and in times of hardship, maybe even the survival of everyone. These are themes that are unfortunately very current.
We are experiencing times of hardship right now, covid restrictions mean a lack of many things but also a lack of connection. Connection has become the thing we are all anxious about. I am beginning to see and witness the fallout of the lack of connection that people are experiencing and some significant mental health problems as a result. I have been thinking a lot about how communities can work to connect again. I have been wondering if the outdoor sector can do more to bring communities together safely outdoors where other provision is now restricted. The outdoors is safer and preferred to indoors to reduce transmission, outdoor providers can do their bit. We know the benefits of being outdoors and in nature, this is well researched now.
It can be hard to get people to come outside sometimes. My research however has shown that people will get together outside to share food. A fire always helps. The power of a communal fire is well known, it has a gift for bringing people together, encouraging talk and conversation and personal story. Fire, food and the outdoors is a great equation for connection with others.
The Curious and Wild Soup Project seeks to actively bring people together outdoors to share connection and food around fire. The combination of these together is magic- I have seen it, I have researched it and I want to encourage more of it. In trying to find a way to encourage connection within our communities again I have unexpectedly settled on using the gentle power of soup!
Supporting the Curious and Wild Soup Project will enable us to be able to support our communities and other organisations with loaning camp fire and cooking equipment, donating ingredients, recipe ideas, use of venues, outdoor leaders, safety and regulations advice and above all encouragement and connection. We will be able to give support in very direct ways locally and also remotely and online for communities further afield.
We have a solid track record of working with communities and supporting diversity and inclusion in outdoor activity. We already work with food surplus charities and have research to show that cooking and sharing food outdoors encourages outdoor participation with many health and social benefits.
Every pound donated will enable us to be able to provide more Curious and Wild Soup kits to groups, purchase basic outdoor cooking kit to put in a lending library for groups to borrow, provide advice to groups needing more support and to create and distribute online free guidance and support content for communities to access from wherever they are.