‘Soup’ serves up justice issues

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Since its inception, the Soup with Substance program has offered food for thought alongside bread and soup.

Soup with Substance started in the spring of 1978 with a discussion of a boycott against Nestle. At the time, Nestle encouraged Third World mothers to bottle-feed their children, knowing the water in many Third World countries was tainted, said Susan Mountin, director of the Manresa Project.

The audience for that discussion filled the room, and members of University Ministry decided the program should continue.

"Soup with Substance was designed within the ideals of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement," Mountin said.

To that end, the discussions brought together experts on a particular issue. Faculty, staff and students united to learn about poverty and justice issues in a round-table format. Everyone who attends is invited to voice his or her opinions.

"It's an interactive dialogue in an informal setting, and that's pretty rare these days," Mountin said.

Over the years, the program has expanded to almost weekly events and has covered hundreds of different topics, including AIDS in Africa and "The Da Vinci Code."

"Name a social justice issue and chances are we've probably touched upon it," said Gerry Fischer, an assistant director of University Ministry and organizer of the program. "The hope is to raise consciousness of social issues, and we try to be balanced in our presentation."

For example, a presentation Wednesday on the conflicts in Israel and Palestine contained both sides of the conflict, Fischer said.

Most programs also have co-sponsors who share the cost and interest in putting on the program with University Ministry. The cost is generally $70 if the speaker talks for free, Fischer said.

Wednesday's "Wheels of Justice" presentation was co-sponsored by Jesuit University Students Together in Concerned Empowerment along with University Ministry.

Judith Mayotte, a visiting professor of theology, has presented at a Soup with Substance before and will speak this year of her experiences in Sudan, where conflicts in the region of Darfur have caused genocide.

"We want to help people understand we really do need to act," Mayotte said.

For Mayotte, the speech is personal. While she was in Sudan researching the effects of displacement on refugees, she lost her leg in an accident and is now wheelchair-bound. She worried Darfur was like Rwanda in the early 1990s, when few peacekeepers attempted to stave off a genocide.

Soup with Substance has an effect on students, Fischer said. Interest has grown in the program so there are about 30 Soups a year.

Even when budget cuts have forced a reduction of Soups, as it has a few times over the last 25 years, the interest has always been present, Mountin said.

Programs for this semester include a discussion on elections, Fair Trade Coffee, diversity in America and issues in tobacco marketing. Programs are held in the Alumni Memorial Union at noon on the scheduled day. Attendance is free, and those who attend receive a bowl of soup, bread and water.