IT USUALLY begins at about 12.30pm: the orderly formation of a queue of people, each clutching a tin of soup. Their destination? The office microwave.
There’s always one who forgets to cover the bowl. It’s usually the person having lentil. The aftermath is awful. For those of us lacking a deli within lunchtime stomping distance, soup is the ultimate in cheap, healthy (check the salt levels on the packing to make sure of this), easy lunch fodder. But is it eco-friendly? From bauxite mining to produce aluminium cans to variable recycling facilities for Tetra Paks, the humble bowl of soup is laden with potential environmental pitfalls.
Last year Mintel undertook a study into the soup-slurping habits of Britons. The market was worth £597 million in 2010 but, despite increasing sales, the amount of people consuming soup is reducing – seemingly it’s the classic ‘buy it and stick it at the back of the cupboard’ product. According to Mintel, the soup market is in reasonable health, with the vast majority of consumers over the age of 55. Young people have apparently become disengaged with soup. I became disengaged when the office can-opener disappeared, leaving a small mallet and large nail as the only means of getting into my minestrone.
For those of you sitting in the back row shouting, “Home-made soup,” don’t worry, we’ll get there. First, packaged soup. Tins have suffered bad press as Tetra Paks have become more widely available. In their favour, tin cans can be recycled to infinity and beyond, but they are heavier so lose points in the transport stakes and involve mining, which has a negative impact on the environment. Tetra Paks are made from 74 per cent paper, 22 per cent polyethylene and 4 per cent aluminium. In Scotland, 14 local authorities now include them in kerbside recycling, although in the other areas you’ll need to hunt out a bin. The small amount of aluminium accounts for 50 per cent of the carbon footprint, so the company is looking for alternatives.
Ingredients, manufacture, packaging, transport, storage and cooking all add to the list of variables in the life-cycle of a serving of soup, but what of the home-made alternative? Local, seasonal ingredients can be quickly cooked up in giant vats, then eaten, refrigerated or frozen in reuseable containers. Big thumbs up for this option. I thought I was doing well when I cooked up some country vegetable, but then noticed the stock powder was made in Switzerland and the bean mix was the produce of various countries. Oh dear. The kale came from the back garden, if that gets me off the hook. (The same kale a neighbour’s marauding hen took one peck of before muttering, “Jamie Oliver might recommend it but it tastes as tough as old boots to me.”)
If we’re going to seriously examine the home-made option, we’ll also need to think about energy use – is it a quick 20-minute simmer or a good couple of hours’ cooking? Does it take three runs in the dishwasher to get the encrusted lentils off the pot? Back in the office there has been talk of a soup club. Everyone would take a turn of bringing in a pot to share. It’s one of those inspiring ideas that will no doubt result in a stushoo when someone forgets that Wednesday was their day to bring in the leek and potato. The 2012 soup riots? You heard it here first.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east