Soup and Bread

Soup & Bread & Thread & Stories


It’s almost April and that means it’s almost the end of the Soup & Bread season for 2024. I feel as though it barely just started, a sentiment that’s supported by the relative lack of digital content this project has produced thus far this year.

If you’ve been following Soup & Bread across even part of the arc of our 16-year existence, you might recall a time when I wrote religiously here, every week. I provided rundowns of events past, previews of nights to come, profiles of food pantries and the people who make them go, and recipes — so many recipes. I filled a book with them! When we started Soup & Bread in 2009, the maw of social media was not nearly so insatiable; I was only compelled by my own documentary urge.

But here we are in 2024, with engagement the coin of the attention economy realm, and I find I’m struggling to do just that. Here is this project grounded in engagement, whose raison d’être is to connect humans with other humans (and redistribute their wealth), and it’s taken me almost a month to let you know how wonderfully our March Soup & Bread went. That we raised $800 in donations for the Market Box project in Woodlawn, and that just three days after that that we hosted our third Soup & Thread event, at Cary’s Lounge in Rogers Park, and that — though small — was wonderful in its own intimate fashion. I have not posted photos to our Instagram, or sent out a long-overdue eblast, and I think I’ve finally figured out why.

This year the ways people are responding to these twinned soup projects, the way they’re showing up with curiosity and good will, have again fed me in all the ways I cherish — but I find myself without much new to say. This project has been running, evolving, iterating, growing, and shrinking for so long but at the root it is the same as it was in January 2009: come together, eat soup, raise money, connect. It’s so very simple, this story, and I’ve been telling it for a long time. I struggle to muster different words, a narrative that adequately encompasses the inevitable ups and downs and twists that entail when you’re doing the same thing for 16 years.

All of which is a longwinded way of saying that when a producer at WBEZ’s The Rundown reached out about recording a podcast episode at our February event, I was like, “Um, sure, whatever?” Thankfully, they were undeterred by my churlishness. In fact, in an act of journalistic generosity, they followed up to ask what I wanted to make sure made the cut, what I thought other coverage might have lacked. I think the result — which dropped March 5 — is wonderful and I particularly appreciate that there are so many other voices included here, new words to supplement my own tired ones.  Thank you to Erin Allen and Justin Bull, for taking the time and the care.

One thing I do wish I’d better articulated in this bit of storytelling, though, is the centrality of Soup & Thread to this whole project, so I’m going to try again here.

With Soup & Thread, our series of monthly sewing bees, we endeavor to engage our community in new fashion, inviting all to help us embellish and stitch together the more than 1,200 fabric panels that tell the full story of Soup & Bread. Each canvas panel is made from a scanned image of a “soup card,” the little signs that for 16 years soup cooks have placed in front of their crock pots, week after week, to tell the stories of their soups, letting visitors know if the soup is vegan, or gluten-free; if it contains allergens like shellfish; if the recipe came from their grandma.

These cards may be humble Sharpie-on-scratch-paper scribbles, or carefully illustrated works of art. Some of them look pretty professional, laser-printed in four-color. Others are elaborately sketched pieces rendered in ink on cardboard. Some were written by children, who we’ve watched grow into young adults. Some were written by friends who have moved away, or shuttered their restaurants, or died. Looking at them together, you can trace the history of Soup & Bread — like the two years we insisted cooks conform to weird weekly “soup themes,” such as “Green” or “The River.” A great many of them bear splotches of dried soup, which scans surprisingly well all these years later.

There was no master plan for these soup cards when I started saving them back in 2009, just that same documentary urge that drove my own weekly chronicles. Looking at them now I see an invaluable archive, a public history of a community that keeps reinventing itself, week after month after year, written by the community itself. It moves me — and I’m so excited to see what happens next, as each panel is stitched to its neighbor over time.

Soup & Thread at the Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange, Feb. 17, 2024.

Soup & Thread at the Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange, Feb. 17, 2024.

The last Soup & Bread of the 2024 soup season happens April 3 at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia. We hope you’ll join us at 6 pm for another evening of soup and sociability for a worthy cause — all pay what you can donations go to support Common Pantry, a food pantry serving the North Side since 1967. Soup cooks for this event include Sol HM, Christine Ranieri, Kate Thomas, Ross Outten, Izzy Fradin, and more, and we’ll have baskets of delicious bread from Publican Quality Bread and Middlebrow, and a soundtrack spun by guest DJ Stan Wood. And, bonus: for the first time this year, there’s no late-night show booked after us, so all are welcome to hang out as late last you like. Enjoy a spring evening of soup and bread without being hustled out the door at 7:45!

And though this is it for Soup & Bread for now, Soup & Thread will keep going strong all year. Our next event is Sunday, April 21, from 4-7 pm at Schoolhouse Kitchen and Studio, 4410 N. Milwaukee in Portage Park. It’s free and family friendly, and we’ll have snack of soup, of course, and bread, and all the supplies you might need to stitch your own story into the larger story of Soup & Bread.

We’ll be popping up all over town in the coming months and will have more exciting news about what’s up with Soup & Thread this summer to share soon. So watch this space for more (we just added an “upcoming events” tab to the sidebar of the website), and I promise to write again soon.

Posted: Saturday Mar 23,2024 06:23 PM In Uncategorized

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