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culture

Sunday in the Park with Soupstock

The culinary protest against the Melancthon mega-quarry drew 40,000 to Woodbine Park.

A smart dinnerware manufacturer would have sent a representative down to Woodbine Park on Sunday to observe the crowd at Soupstock. This rep would have been able to gather some fine competitive intelligence by watching people use every form of soup-holding implement known to humanity, from mass-produced mugs to colourful handcrafted ceramic bowls, all filled with tasty concoctions prepared by fine chefs from across the province.

An estimated crowd of 40,000 people showed up for the culinary event, which was more than just a bring-your-own-bowl food fest: it was also a protest against a quarry, proposed by Highland Companies for construction in the township of Melancthon. Dubbed the “mega-quarry” by its opponents, the project would directly affect an estimated 2,300 acres of farmland, located about 100 kilometres north of Toronto. Melancthon residents fear adverse effects on their water supply, and on the local economy.

At Sunday’s event, attendees paid to sample soups made by professional chefs and prepared with ingredients sourced from Toronto-region farms. The proceeds went to the Canadian Chefs’ Congress and the David Suzuki Foundation. Both organizations have been involved in fighting the quarry.

Soupstock was more popular than last year’s Foodstock, a similar event. The latter attracted only 28,000 supporters. Location probably made the difference: Foodstock was held in a field near Melancthon, a long drive from Toronto. Sunny skies and comfortable temperatures may also have boosted attendance this year.

The crowds weren’t too terrible. Woodbine Park is spacious and the soup booths were spread out. Long lines formed for soups made by celebrity chefs like Susur Lee and Marc Thuet, and at booths offering high-end ingredients. Meanwhile, other participants ladled out their creations to lines that were relatively short, or non-existent. Fall-harvest ingredients dominated the offerings, which together used over 12,000 pounds of local produce. Lovers of carrots, parsnips, and squash were in heaven. We found the secret to a happy stomach was balancing broth-based soups—like a clear hot-and-sour soup with Asian carp fish balls—with heartier stews and chili-like dishes, like a “Mexican Minestrone.”

Besides soup, the event also included speeches from activists and farmers battling the mega-quarry. All of them stressed the project’s potential to wreak havoc on the environment, and on the livelihood of area farmers. They shared stage time with a mix of musical acts headlined by Jim Cuddy and Jesse Cook, all hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos and Jeremy Taggart. The overall vibe, while firmly against the project, was more relaxed than excessively rah-rah.

CORRECTION: October 22, 2012, 4:15 PM This post originally said that proceeds from Soupstock went to the anti-quarry movement. In fact, the event was a benefit for two organizations—the Canadian Chefs’ Congress and the David Suzuki Foundation—whose activities include opposing the quarry. (The Suzuki Foundation has pledged to use all of its Soupstock money for anti-quarry campaigning.)

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