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Published: Thursday, 12/6/2001

Soup choice may be mind over mouth

On the fourth Thursday of every November, there are two things my husband can rely on: First, that I will roast a turkey; and second, that I will make soup stock.

So what was he thinking this year when, in the course of after-dinner cleanup, my husband unthinkingly pitched the turkey carcass into the trash?

Not that I have any legitimate griping rights. For one thing, he very kindly spared me my share of the cleanup.

That, plus I am the person who has lately taken to “putting away'' the feta cheese not in the fridge where it belongs, but up in the cereal cabinet.

We grow forgetful together, he and I, and we should hope only to do so at similar rates.

Still, I miss the annual batch of rich turkey broth. Canned soup just isn't the same - as Brian Wansink knows only too well.

A marketing and nutritional sciences professor, Dr. Wansink refined some basic questions . - for instance, tomato vs. chicken noodle? - and ended up with “lifestyle and personality clusters.''

Kids, don't try this at home without adult supervision.

“The French have this idea that there's no accounting for taste,'' the University of Illinois professor says, “but I believe there are explanations for taste.''

When you consider France's inexplicable love for Jerry Lewis, personally I think there's no choice but to side with the French about the mysteries of personal taste. But never mind. I'm no PhD, yet even so, I can and will acknowledge the American obsession for quantifying everything possible.

Even, it turns out, soup. Not that Dr. Wansink cares all that much about soup likes and dislikes.

“Primarily, I was testing a methodology that can be used to categorize different sorts of people. I could have done this with anything. I could have used shoes, if you prefer. I used soup because it was one of those things that - well, two years ago, when I started thinking about this, it was really cold, and I ate a lot of soup, and the woman I'm with has vastly different soup preferences from me.''

Hey, that's as good a reason as any. And although Dr. Wansink was more interested in methodology and less in data, what we came up with turned out to be rather eye-catching. Using four of the most popular soups, Dr. Wansink cross-tabulated lifestyle and personality characteristics and came up with soup “personality types.''

So, while you think you're just loading the grocery cart with chicken noodle, in fact you might be revealing that you like animals but aren't terribly outdoorsy, and (as your family and friends already probably know) you're stubborn.

And that person next to you in Aisle 12, the one buying minestrone? He's likely to be physically fit, probably because he's so aware of nutrition and, very likely, is even on a special diet. And however much he's family-spirited (quite), unlike you he probably has no pets.

Meanwhile, the person stocking up on canned tomato soup is pretty gregarious and inclined to be adventurous. She also loves reading and pets.

Keep your fingers crossed that she never marries a vegetable soup buyer, who is likely to be a homebody with little appreciation for travel or spontaneity.

Dr. Wansink, by the way, admits to a fondness for tomato soup, “but with stuff in it, like Tabasco sauce.''

Tsk.

Some people just have to skew the data, don't they?

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays,

and Saturdays. Email her at roberta@theblade.com or call 1-419-724-6086.



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