Martha Bayne was bored, and "seriously underemployed" when in 2009 she founded a weekly soup and bread dinner held at The Hideout, a bar in Chicago. "I had a lot of free time and not a lot of money," she said. "It was a way of giving myself a project to engage with."
Bayne's project gave rise to a mini-movement. People in other cities replicated her model of simple soup-and-bread fundraising meals. She gathered recipes from participants and created a self-published cookbook. Agate Press picked up the book, and now soup, you could say, has become Bayne's bread and butter.
On February 12th, Bayne will be hosting two events in Seattle, the first at 2 p.m. at Elliott Bay Book Company and the other at 6 p.m. at Radar Hair and Records. The Elliott Bay event benefits the Jewish Family Services food bank, while the Radar Hair and Records event raises money for Radar co-owner Betsy Hansen's cancer fund.
Bayne conceived Soup and Bread as an antidote to hoity-toity, fifty-dollar-a-plate charitable events. Every week, all kinds of people, from caterers to artists to musicians, bring their soups to the Hideout in Chicago. The soups are served up to whoever shows up, and there's a donation bucket to benefit those truly in need.
"It was designed to be an accessible fundraiser for people who wanted to do something good but didn't necessarily have a lot of money," she said.
It was not, however, a free community meal.
"We weren't targeting a homeless or specifically at-risk group of people, probably because it's in a bar, a very small bar, and we don't have the physical or social service infrastructure for that. It's a way of raising money to give to people who do have the infrastructure to work with that population."
As word of Soup and Bread events spread, people often approached Bayne, eager to share their own soup stories.
"People would come up and say things like, 'Have you ever been to a soup swap?' and I had never heard of a soup swap in my life. It was the stories about soup that drove me to write this book in the first place."
A soup swap is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: groups of people come together and exchange soups. Not only is it a social event, but it's also convenient. Soup is generally made in such large batches that it's nearly impossible to eat it all on your own. Soup swaps are a great way to solve this problem and to build community.
Like many good recipes, the events turn out a little different every time. Participants decide for themselves what kind of soup to bring, and that has made for some interesting evenings.
"There was one night where every soup we had was beige, the same color of beige. We call it the Night of Beige Soup."
Don't mistake beige with bland. Bayne said her book has a "gentle political edge" because soup is inherently collective.
"It's a meal that brings people together to all share from the same pot," Bayne said. "There's something political about that."