Talking Tomato Soup

Tomato Soup is a classic American comfort food. I associate the dish with a mother’s love, because my mom would always make this meal (with a side of grilled cheese, of course) when I was home sick from school as a child, and the warmth from the soup and the softness of the grilled cheese would always make me feel better. Let’s discover the cultural background behind this classic family soup.

Tomato Soup in Pop Culture

Campbell’s Tomato Soup became the inspiration for world-renowned pop artist Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans painting displayed in the Museum of Modern Art (“Andy Warhol”). In the spring of 1962, Warhol had been working on renditions of comic strips when he needed inspiration for something else to paint. A friend of Warhol’s suggested he do something that prompted recognition immediately, like Campbell’s Soup. Warhol was instantly intrigued and purchased soup cans, which he “began to trace projections onto canvas, tightly painting within the outlines to resemble the appearance of the original offset lithograph labels” (“The Fascinating Story”). At that time, Irving Blum from The Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles paid Warhol a visit and expected to see a comic strips ensemble, and instead was pleasantly surprised by the soup cans masterpiece (“The Fascinating Story”). He offered Warhol a show that summer, and displayed each of Warhol’s 32 soup cans on his shelves after Warhol decided to expand his subject (“The Fascinating Story”).

The exhibition caused a stir in Los Angeles. While the edgy, youthful art and film community became fascinated by the uniqueness of the art pieces, the majority of onlookers received the artwork negatively or without much opinion at all (“The Fascinating Story”).


Image Credit: Katie Johnson

Soon, Blum realized that the artwork would be better sold in a packaged, single piece of art. With his Campbell’s Soup Cans installation at Ferus Gallery, Warhol came to the conclusion that he could present these works in a series, and grasped the importance of the visual effect of serial imagery (“The Fascinating Story”).

He continued making variations on his soup cans, stenciling multiple cans within a single canvas and so amplifying the effect of products stacked in a grocery store, an idea that he would later develop in the box sculptures (“The Fascinating Story”). He also realized that a high amount of repetition regarding a single image was wasteful and meaningless (“The Fascinating Story”).  The most vital outcome of this series was the artist’s push towards printing to achieve the mechanical appearance that he sought in his paintings (“The Fascinating Story”).

Most recently, television personality Stephen Colbert created his own spin-off of Warhol’s popular condensed soup cans, calling them “Colbert’s Stephensed Manhattan Clam Chowder” for his talk show episode about the soup war between Campbell’s and Progresso (Custner).

If Warhol’s soup cans have caught your eye, limited-edition tomato soup cans inspired by the artist are available for purchase here, and Warhol-inspired soup can posters are also available here.


“Andy Warhol: Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962.” Museum of Modern Art. Museum of Modern Art, N.D. Web. 19 January 2016.

Custner, Jose. “Stephen Colbert on a Soup Can?” Restoring Truthiness. 27 April 2011. Web. 19 January 2016.

“The Fascinating Story Behind Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans.” Phiadon. Phiadon, N.D. Web. 19 January 2016.

Tomato Soup History

The tomato was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, from South America and Mexico. Most likely the first variety to reach Europe was yellow in color, since in Spain and Italy they were known as pomi d’oro, meaning “love apples” (Fillippone).

Italy was the first country to embrace and cultivate the tomato outside South America. The French, on the other hand, referred to the tomato as pommes d’amour, or love apples, as they thought them to have stimulating aphrodisiacal properties (Fillipone).

Tomatoes were first brought to Florida in the 1600s, did not become a part of the American diet until the 19th century (“History”). Because tomatoes belong to the same plant family as the Deadly Nightshade, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous until the late 1800s (“History”).

While the first tomato soup recipe was credited to Maria Parola’s tomato chowder recipe from her 1872 Appledore Cookbook, other early tomato soup recipes consisted of tomatoes added to basic vegetable soups (Fillippone).

Dr. John D. Torrance was the first to come up with the idea of canned condensed soup, or taking out the water, for the famous Campbell Company. This made a 10 oz. can of condensed soup cost a dime whereas a 32 oz. can of traditional soup was 30 cents (Fabio).

The condensation idea saved costs in shipping, packaging, and storage, and, most importantly, made Campbell’s a household name in soups (Fabio).


Image Credit: iSpot TV

Indeed, Dr. Dorrance quite literally put the “Soup” in the company name–before condensed tomato soup, it had simply been “Campbell Company.” He is credited to making “Camnbell’s Soup” a national household name. Ever since, tomato soup has been enjoyed as a classic American comfort food (Fabio).


Fabio, Michelle. “The History of Tomato Soup.” Tomato Casual. Tomato and Urban Garden Love. 20 September 2007. Web. 19 January 2016.

Fillippone, Peggy Trowbridge. “Tomato History-The History of Tomatoes as Food.” About Food., 16 December 2014. Web. 19 January 2016.

“History of Tomato Soup in America.” Food History. Blogger, 18 January 2012. Web. 19 January 2016.

Tomato Soup and Politics

Tomato Soup is a good source of the antioxidant lycopene, which helps to lower bad cholesterol as well as fight cancer. In the President’s most recent State of the Union address, he put Vice President Biden in charge of new efforts to expedite cancer prevention.

Currently, The American Cancer Society predicts there will be nearly 1.7 million new cancer cases this year, and more than 595,000 deaths. Additionally, five-year survival rates for most cancers are increasing. Today, it’s 89 percent for breast cancer and more than 90 percent for prostate and thyroid cancers. More than two-thirds of patients survive at least five years with colorectal, cervical, uterine and kidney cancers and lymphoma.

While there is no single cure for cancer since it is a broad term for hundreds of diseases, scientists now have a much better understanding of how cancer forms and ways to go about fighting it.

Looking Ahead of Chemo

While chemotherapy is the most popular and mainstream approach to cancer treatment, immunotherapy — tapping the body’s immune system to attack tumors, like the drug credited with helping treat former President Jimmy Carter’s advanced melanoma.

The first immunotherapies essentially strip away some of the ways that tumors hide, without as many side effects as chemo. They’ve worked well enough in melanoma and lung cancer that they’re now being explored for a wide variety of tumors.

An even newer form of immunotherapy is being developed to increase the amount of patients’ cancer-attacking cells.

Tumor genes and cancer differences

Genetic differences inside tumors help explain why one person’s cancer is more aggressive than another’s, and why certain drugs work for one patient but not the next, especially newer “targeted therapies” that are designed to home in on certain characteristics.

Increasingly, patients at leading cancer centers are getting their tumor genes mapped to help guide treatment. If hospitals pool that genetic information, researchers can more rapidly learn which drugs best match which patients, says Dr. Victor Velculescu of Johns Hopkins University and the American Association for Cancer Research.

What about research funding?

The federal government spends more than $5 billion a year on cancer research. Biden already is credited with having helped push through Congress a budget package last month that, among other things, increased the NIH’s cancer funding by $260 million this year.

More clinical trials needed

Most children and teens with cancer are enrolled in clinical trials that carefully guide their treatment, and that’s credited with markedly improving survival of pediatric cancer over the past 30 years.

In contrast, just 5 percent of adults with cancer enroll in clinical trials, a number that would have to increase to speed new approaches for cancer control.

What’s next?

Look for newer ways to detect cancer early using so-called liquid biopsies, blood tests that capture fragments of DNA that tumors shed into the bloodstream. Already doctors are studying these tests in cancer patients to see if treatments are working or need a change.

Source: “What You Need to Know About Obama Administration’s ‘Moonshot’ Effort to Cure Cancer.” OregonLive. OregonLive LLC., 14 January 2016. Web. 19 January 2016.

Spicy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Croutons


Image Credit: Nicole Perry


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, peeled, halved, and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
About 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
About 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, or to taste
4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices rustic white bread
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
Neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, are beginning to brown, and are very tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, plus the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add the basil, salt, and balsamic vinegar, remove from the heat, and let cool briefly, about 5 minutes.
  3. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large, heatproof bowl. Using a blender, puree the soup in batches until smooth. Pour the blended soup through the strainer, pressing on the solids with a rubber spatula or ladle; discard the solids. Taste the soup, and season to taste with additional salt and vinegar as needed.
  4. Brush melted butter on one side of each slice of bread, making certain to cover the entire surface with butter. Turn the slices over, and pile Gruyère on two of the slices. Place the remaining two slices of bread on top of the Gruyère, buttered sides up.
  5. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat, barely coat the pan with a drizzle of neutral oil, and cook the grilled cheeses for about 2 minutes per side, or until the cheese has melted and the bread is crusty and deep golden brown. For the best results, press down on the grilled cheeses with a second cast-iron skillet to mimic a panini press while they cook.
  6. Allow the grilled cheeses to rest for a minute or two, and then cut into square crouton-sized pieces. Reheat the soup as necessary, ladle into bowls, and garnish with a chiffonade of basil, grilled cheese croutons, and freshly cracked black pepper.





North American


Serves 6

Source: Perry, Nicole. “Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Combine Forces for One Epic Bowl.” Pop Sugar. Pop Sugar, 14 January 2016. Web. 19 January 2016.

© 2016 Meagan Nelson & Dinner and Democracy. All Rights Reserved.