What is a <food category>?

I played Something Something Soup Something, a simple game which tries to resolve your definition of what is the meaning of “soup”.

It’s mildly interesting, but misses the mark with the wrong question. We could start a war over the definition of “sandwich”, and I would hope the game could be upgraded to address this much more significant issue.


  1. konservenknilch says

    Basically a more watery stew , I’m sticking with that ;)

    Also, toast is just a tiny pizza.

    Man, food definitions… it’s almost like categories are made up or something…

  2. cartomancer says

    Don’t go there PZ. Some of us are still recovering from our injuries from the Great Pharyngula Sandwich Wars back in May. Do I have to summon the ghost of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, again to give the definitive answer?

  3. blf says

    The four food groups are sugar, starch, grease, and burnt crunchy bits. At least according to Sham Harga.

    The mildly deranged penguin says food is cheese, MUSHROOMS!, moar cheese, additional cheese, and other stuff. But not peas. Definitely not peas.

  4. says

    When hot, the cheese in pizza is gooey, making the crust a kind of flat bowl cradling a liquid in which toppings are embedded.

    Therefore, pizza is a soup.

  5. konservenknilch says

    @5 You joke, but many years ago on a school bicycle trip, we had pizza which would indeed have counted as soup. They must have used too much of a really watery tomato sauce, and everything was sloshing back and forth on the plate, with cheese islands floating around on top.

    Long story short, I felt like throwing up and retired to our room. Ah, good times.

  6. rpjohnston says

    Heh, my definition ended up including no meat or seafood, and can be eaten using any utensil. That isn’t quite right; two of the 3 I selected had ice cream scoops, and the first one came with chopstick but with large, edible bits that could conceivably be grasped with the chopsticks. I had to pass on the most edible dish I received – a thick liquid with rice and cocktail umbrella – because it came with a straw. (Another one was almost perfect, except for the poison mushrooms. I spent awhile deliberating.)

  7. rpjohnston says

    (sorry for double post, wish there was an edit button) The context also makes a difference in what I define as soup; an eatery is one context, a chemical bath is another, a swarm of mobs in a video game is another, and if we talk about a souped-up car…

    For an eatery context though, if I defined it in my own words, a “soup” is something that is liquid or immersed in liquid and is edible. I wouldn’t normally consider the utensil or container a part of the definition of soup. A “soup worth serving”, an extended definition that’s implied by the premise, also needs to have a minimum of palatability. About a quarter of number of things I was served met the first definition (but I had to reject them anyway because the utensil was unusable), and only one thing appeared to meet the second (the aforementioned rice bowl I rejected).

  8. robro says

    As a professional taxonomist I can easily answer any questions about the categorizations of food: call it anything that suits your purpose. If you’re hungry or it looks appetizing, it doesn’t matter what you call it. Just eat it.

  9. blf says

    The casserole I just made, which uses crème fraîche mixed with moutarde à l’ancienne as the liquid (topped up with water & a dash of vin rouge), has bits of potatoes & leeks and chunks of meat (veau) and other stuff surrounded by, albeit not floating (I suppose the melted cheese topping might be floating?), and is therefore a tomato-less pizza, and therefore soup. And definitely does not contain any peas. Nor any MUSHROOMS! because I’ve run out… (sobs)

  10. Ogvorbis: Swimming without a parachute. says

    The four food groups are, as all should know, “Beans, bacon, whisky and lard!”

    I once had a sandwich that consisted of two pieces of lettuce (the ‘bread’), country ham, tomato, bacon and cheddar cheese. Am I out of the sandwich club?

  11. rpjohnston says

    And a second playthrough served me almost entirely edible and even palatable things; I rejected only 3 (this time I disregarded straws and chopsticks: If it was edible and liquidlike, I served it). It’s funny; the first play was all rocks, ice cubes and batteries, and this one was all stuff I’d be willing to eat, after a glance askew at the waiter. (Well, except for the mussels and flies in foamy liquid…someone else needs the protein more than me).

    I looked at the Results page and…a 21-person focus group, and 29 game beta testers are their data sets? I sure hope this version’s capturing data because those numbers are useless, unless their statistics prof is an evil genius overlord and they’re trying to take them out with a conniption.

  12. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    More (proportionally) liquids than solids. Moderate proportion of liquid is “stew”. “Liquid” is literal, not simply “squishy” like a gel. Chile is … (on the fence).

    I started to say ‘soup needs spoon for utensil’, then remember cultural differences. Like Miso Soup in Japan is usually eaten with chops ( for to tofu) and the bowl itself is used as a mug to bring the liquid to the lips.

  13. nathanieltagg says

    My students have been all over the sandwich issue. One sticking point is the taco. One student attempted to resolve it by asking if hot dogs were sandwiches.

    When I was asked to adjudicate, I decided that hot dogs were NOT sandwiches,but more correctly classified as dumplings.

    This did nothing to resolve the issue.

  14. cartomancer says

    Ogvorbis, #12

    Yes. Yes you most certainly are. The ghost of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, throws up his arms in disgust and glares at you most vexingly for thinking that a sandwich can be made without two slices of bread.

    You are now cursed with the Earl’s eponymous geas, which means a 20% penalty to all Social Interaction and Gambling tests until you can get the curse removed.

  15. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    First one should define “food,” such as “that which greens and the like accompany, but are not.”

    “Beans, bacon, whisky and lard!”

    Whiskey is a form of industrial waste generated by the manufacture of barrels for aging beer in.

  16. Chakat Firepaw says

    I looked at the Results page and…a 21-person focus group, and 29 game beta testers are their data sets? I sure hope this version’s capturing data because those numbers are useless, unless their statistics prof is an evil genius overlord and they’re trying to take them out with a conniption.

    I think it’s worst than that: From their commentary, they seem to be coming to the conclusion that people are much broader in what they will accept than what they will say is the definition. Unless their experimental runs are _way_ longer and ideally iterated, (with the game taking what it ‘learned’ about soup to try and give a better selection in each round¹), then they will be facing a big “well, that’s at least _edible_” effect because people don’t want to reject everything.

    1: Perhaps also have the player track a “most like soup” choice until something is accepted as soup, although it would be an interesting programming challenge to develop a system that can work with only the number accepted as soup.

  17. says

    It at least got me thinking a little. “Soup” means a liquid base, so ice cubes and rocks are out, but the consistency of the liquid is pretty much irrelevant. Soup contains ingredients that a diner could physically ingest, but poison ingredients don’t break the “soup” category; they just move the product into the “poison soup” subset. What utensil, tool, or implement happens to be lying next to the soup container is utterly irrelevant to whether it’s soup or not and I feel that this element should have been left out. I was going to say that the container holding the prospective soup is also completely irrelevant, but then I realized that chicken broth is soup if it’s in a bowl and a beverage if it’s in a mug.