Is it Soup, or is it Cereal?

Recently, a question entered my life that has caused me to look at the world differently. It may seem minor, yet once I actually allowed myself to interpret the question and think about it, I realized just how complicated some questions are — even the simple ones. Now, I am not the first to debate this topic, and I am most certainly not the last, but I might as well bring it into the community of the College of William and Mary (and beyond). Let us venture into the mind of a 20-year old college student and entertain this conversation of great unimportance.

The question being: Is cereal soup?

What is cereal compared to soup, and is it right to classify both as the same substance? Thinking about their separate definitions, it is easier to distinguish the limitations of their categories. On a quick trip down the Oxford English Dictionary road, I found both soup and cereal to be deeply rooted in language and history. Derived from the Latin, “Cerealis” (attributed to the goddess of agriculture), the OED defines cereal as “pertaining to corn or edible grain.” Any oats or wheat that humans consume are traditionally cereal. Soup, on the other hand, is defined as a, “liquid food prepared by boiling.” Therefore, soup is anything that extracts flavor from a product by letting it soak in broth. In that case, cereal is wheat and soup is stew.

The line is vague when we think about the contemporary use of cereal with liquid. Is it not a “stew” in its own right? The milk is infused with flavor and changes color depending on what cereal or oat you decide to put into it. Therefore, by definition, cereal is soup. Using the philosophy tactics that I learned from good ol’ Saint Augustus, if cereal is soup, then soup is cereal — that just seems wrong. However, we use bread in soup constantly, and what is bread but a grain? Maybe soup is just a warm cereal then, or maybe cereal has soup-like qualities but also has its own separate function.

What difference does it make whether cereal is a soup or not anyway — who actually cares? But when you label simple questions as useless, then you may also say that it does not matter who Shakespeare really is or if aliens made the pyramids, because the material substance matters more than the explanation behind these conspiracies. However, it is human nature to be curious, and by opening our minds up to questions as silly as “Is cereal soup?” or “Are hot dogs sandwiches?” we can challenge other notions of life that limit the possibilities of our thoughts. By demolishing such mental boundaries, we realize the complexity of our language.

Maybe all it takes is warming our cereal and cooling our soup to break the boundaries and combine the categories. A day will hopefully come when I will be able to order Lucky Charms for dinner, and all will be right with the world.

Ellie Moonan is a Confusion Corner columnist who wants to break the boundaries of soup and cereal categories.



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