February 25, 2016


Soupelina’s Soup Cleanse: Plant-Based Soups and Broths to Heal Your Body, Calm Your Mind, and Transform Your Life. By Elina Fuhrman. Da Capo. $24.99.

     “Transform Your Life?” Really? Those who believe that celebrity-endorsed one-size-fits-all food and nutrition fads have significance and staying power will surely want this guide to a new one so they can make use of Elina Fuhrman’s approach and admonitions diligently, even religiously, with full faith in their permanent value until the next “in” thing comes along. Very big, very important, very soon to be forgotten celebrities and other fad leaders have pushed the “cleanse” concept for a while, with the result that Fuhrman actually created her own “cleanse” idea in part as a response to the most-common existing one: “I was so tired of scrolling through Instagram photos of just about everyone in LA ‘juice cleansing’ that I wanted to shake things up. Don’t get me wrong; I love juicing but you know what goes on during juice cleansing: You feel tired, you feel dizzy, you feel hungry, your blood sugar goes up and down because of all the sugary fruits mixed in with the greens. And by the time you are done, you are so ready for a juicy cheeseburger.”

     Well, with an endorsement like that, who wouldn’t want to try a cleanse? But Fuhrman’s, to give it and her some credit beyond the “wow, it’s trendy” type, hits on something in this intense focus on soups. Soup is, or can be, a hearty meal in itself, and many people – even the non-trendy – turn to it as a comfort food as well as a bulwark against cold, rainy, snowy and generally unpleasant weather. Soup can be nutrient-packed (although it isn’t always), and anyone who really does want to build his or her diet around soup can do so in comparatively straightforward and uncomplicated ways.

     Of course, “straightforward and uncomplicated” would not be hyper-trendy, so Soupelina’s Soup Cleanse is careful not to take an overly forthright approach. “All of [the soups in the book] are made from scratch, using the freshest organic ingredients. …All the soups are vegan, made from some familiar ingredients and some exotic ones, too. …[Some] have medicinal and healing properties, too.” Well, hold on a moment: now we are getting into the “nutraceutical” craze, the notion that just eating certain things in certain ways will remove toxins from the body (the basic “cleanse” idea) and will, as a positive side effect, eliminate the necessity of dealing with the messiness of modern medicine and all the ills it allegedly brings along with the cures it allegedly doles out in grudging fashion. It is understandable that Fuhrman would take this approach, since she credits soups with helping her recover from breast cancer, and she says directly that “soups became a form of self-love and comfort as I changed the way I ate, gave up all meat and dairy, and turned to plant-based foods.” So this book is built in part on a foundation of extreme plant focus, a “wellness revolution that I believe will transform the world and our health.” Well, it is fine that Fuhrman believes soups transformed her health, but that is a far cry from saying they will transform everyone’s health, and her ardent vegan advocacy will certainly turn off people who may stumble upon this book but who are more inclined to believe in “everything in moderation” than in “this is the one and only way to eat and live and behave.”

     So Fuhrman self-limits the audience for Soupelina’s Soup Cleanse through a kind of stridency that couples unattractively with self-assured complete certainty. That is a recipe for a cult, not a soup. Nevertheless, the point is worth making again: soups are, or certainly can be, highly nutritious and the foundation of a healthful eating regimen. Whether they are a useful “cleansing” tool is a matter of opinion, and whether “cleanses” themselves are good or bad for health is also by no means definite. But even people who refuse to swallow Fuhrman’s rhetoric and opinions along with her soups may at least want to consider some of the recipes here, because Fuhrman has come up with some good and interesting ones – provided that people have the time to make the soups and the inclination to do vegan-style shopping if they do not already practice that particular type of eating.

     Oh – one more thing – the recipe titles, like the book’s underlying philosophy, may or may not be widely appealing. Fuhrman goes for the cutesy, and she likes names that end in question marks or exclamation points: “Oh Dhal-ing!” “What the Hemp?” “I Can’t Believe It’s Butternut!” “Oh Snap!” “You’re My Fava-rite!” “That’s Just Dandy!” “Cauliflower Me, Maybe?!” Even the non-questioning, non-exclamatory names are intended to be oh-so-adorable: “And the Beet Goes On,” “I Yam Who I Yam,” “Cure for the Common Kohlrabi,” “I Don’t Carrot All What They Say,” “Lentil Me Entertain You,” “Pho Sho,” “Don’t Kvass Me Any More Questions,” and so on. And on. The soups themselves are, thankfully, better than their names: some are hearty, some are spicy, some offer intriguing mixtures of vegetables, and some are particularly interestingly spiced (although you have to be willing to spend Whole Foods prices for some of those spices: this is emphatically not a book for the budget-sensitive). The soups that take off from Oriental recipes and include plenty of ginger, lemongrass, coconut, turmeric and similar ingredients are especially appealing. Other recipes may be more of a hard sell, such as “Beet the Heat,” which includes “raw organic beet kombucha,” sauerkraut, unpasteurized pickles and more. Soupelina’s Soup Cleanse is a “cause” book and a “California cool” book; it even contains a soup called “Kale-ifornia Dreamin’.” Those not already committed to the “cleanse cause” and those who are insufficiently with-it in California terms will scarcely be drawn in by Fuhrman’s ideas and foods. But the book is not quite as limited in appeal as it seems to be at first – although it is certainly not as universally useful as it claims to be, and its assertions are best taken with a soupçon or two of the Himalayan pink salt that Fuhrman includes in so many of her recipes.

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