An article in the issue of The New York Times dated March 4, 2014 introduces the phenomenon of New York City's proliferating ramen shops under the headline “Ramen’s big splash”.

It contains the following passage:

“Rising like stream from these ceramic bowls is, in short, the city’s movement from hushed fine dining to noisy eat-and-run joints; from subtle flavors to assertive ones; from a dining scene in which pork played almost no role to one in which it was the emperor of meats. This is a lot of cargo for noodle soup. In the end, though, spinning theories about ramen isn’t as much fun as tracking down a great bowl, so that‘s what I’ve been doing lately.”

I don’t understand the meaning of the expression “This is a lot of cargo for noodle soup.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary (10th ed.) defines “cargo” simply as “goods carried commercially on a ship, aircraft or truck”.

What does “this” refer to, and what does “cargo” represent? According to the COD, “cargo” is a countable noun. Is “This is a lot of cargo” grammatically correct?

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    I'm far too tired to write an answer. I'll just note a line from cargo to baggage to cultural baggage. – TRiG Jan 3 '15 at 5:37
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    The notion here is that the rise of ramen's status in the world of New York City foods can be taken as a metaphor for the rise of all fast-and-simple prepared foods from a previous tradition of carefully orchestrated meals at fine-dining establishments—and then the author acknowledges that such a role is quite a load for a simple noodle soup to carry. But of course, the soup didn't devise that exaggerated metaphor in the first place—the author did. So I blame him (or her). – Sven Yargs Jan 3 '15 at 8:28
  • That review's got a lot of cargo for such a simple thought. – 1252748 Jan 3 '15 at 22:31

“This is a lot of cargo” is grammatically correct. Cargo is both a countable noun and an uncountable noun, depending on the context. As a rule of thumb, a physical cargo is countable, and a metaphorical or abstract one isn't:

(Countable:) The ships had brought twenty-five full cargoes of wheat into the tiny port in the space of 36 hours.

(Uncountable:) The metaphysical cargo embodied in the traditions of African tribal art that Picasso had observed as a young man influenced him long into his most productive years as a painter.

In the context of the NYT piece you quoted, This is a lot of cargo for noodle soup means, in effect, "This represents a considerable range of culinary diversity and sophistication for [implied: something as humble as] noodle soup to have to carry".

In other words, this range of diversity is the soup's metaphorical cargo.

  • Yes. 'Represent' is a transitive verb that does not reuire preposition (for). I memorized "represent for" as an idiom for unknown reason (possibly cofused with 'account for), which was incorrect. I corrected it. Thank you for your pointing out. – Yoichi Oishi Jan 3 '15 at 10:07

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