Soup or Salad

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To Richard Friedlander that soup or that salad you put together in your kitchen is really a metaphor for the kind of country we live in.

Tradition has called America the great melting pot, but some would say it’s more a salad bowl than a soup. It’s not really a debate for the Iron Chef to resolve; still, it might help to examine the two competitors from a culinary standpoint.

In a salad, the vegetables remains distinctive and easily identified, not really contributing to a coherent dish with a unique flavor. Equal in theory, but separate in fact, each vegetable craves recognition, screaming, “Taste me! Taste me!” Of course, if some ingredient in the salad is not to your liking, you can quietly nudge it to the edge of the plate, but beware: hell hath no fury like a vegetable scorned. It’s not surprising, therefore, that salads have no shelf life. They demand immediate consumption or they wilt or wither away.

On the other hand, a good, thick soup requires patience. If I toss all the vegetables into a cast-iron pot and simmer it for hours, they dissolve into something quite different from their individual selves. Potato leek soup isn’t potato and leek soup: it’s a new creation that enhances and is enhanced by both.

Soups get better over time, tastier on the second or third day. And if you continue to add new vegetables, as the soup invites you to do, new flavors develop a harmony with the old, courageously contributing their cherished distinctiveness to create something far richer than themselves, confident that in this new environment their essence will survive. The amazing taste of such a soup often has you guessing with pleasure at the ingredients; and unlike a salad, you can’t whimsically exclude any them: after all, they’ve become the soup.


The image of America as a melting pot has been around since 1780, another of our as yet unrealized ideals. Only in the Confederacy’s stubborn defense of states' rights did the salad bowl assert itself, and we all know what that led to. Yet, despite this bloody lesson, the salad bowl appears to be our fractured society’s modern day dish of choice. Give me a hearty soup any day.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is an actor and mediator in the East Bay.