The Common Ingredient That Connects Us

MU Geography Department graduate Taylor Fox submitted a recipe to The  Common Ingredient.

By Cathy Salter

Following the spread of a deadly coronavirus pathogen from its source in Wuhan, China, to countries around the world, the global nature of the pandemic has brought the threat of food insecurity into critical focus. In the five months since the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in the United States, businesses across the country have had to close, schools and universities have gone to online teaching, and record numbers of workers laid-off or furloughed have filed for unemployment. For an increasing number of Americans, food insecurity has become personal.

With much of our nation still following directives to stay at home, we are faced with how to feed ourselves and how to help feed others who are struggling to put food on the table. Ironically, while facing food scarcity challenges, many people around the world have been rediscovering the joy of food.

Food writer M.F.K. Fisher lived through a period of food deprivation due to global warfare in the 1940s. In her classic book, “The Art of Eating,” she reveals her thoughts on what it is about eating that brings people together. “With good friends…and good food on the board … we may well ask, when shall we live if not now?” In other words, a shared meal binds people together, wherever they are in the world, and no matter how bountiful or sparse the provender.

Taylor’s Cuban grandmother Mamina and dish of her “picadillo."

In his New Yorker Sunday Archive (May 3, 2020), editor David Remnick shared past articles from the magazine about cooking at home. “Everyone has an idea of home cooking, and everyone’s idea is different. Like Proust’s madeleine, the radical simplicity of home cooking has a way of evoking powerful feelings and recollections. Some of us conjure images of days spent in the kitchen with our families, whereas others contemplate the improvisation of new meals or recipes from a favorite cookbook. The common thread is that certain tastes can make us feel, at least for the moment, that all is right with the world.” 

Cathy Salter with oyster mushrooms used in her recipe.

In that spirit, a small group of friends in Columbia, Missouri, saw in cooking a way to raise donations from the community to help people struggling to feed their families. This project offers something interactive for the donor in stressing the power of food to feed the spirit. Working from their homes, the six women created an online food blog called “The Common Ingredient.”

Recipes and comfort food stories are being collected from compassionate Missouri friends and neighbors who love to cook and are eager to contribute to the effort. Their collective family recipes and food stories are now available at To help feed those in need at this unprecedented time of food insecurity, visitors to the website are encouraged to pick a recipe, try it, and make a donation to one of three local nonprofits — The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia, and the Missouri Restaurant Association Workers Benefit Fund.

Visit the site and meet the Team who imagined and created The Common Ingredient — Dr. Anne Deaton, Cathy Salter, Nina Mukerjee Furstenau, Robin LaBrunerie, Barbara Schlemeier, and Linda Cupp. Four of the recipes and food stories on the food blog were donated by former Peace Corps volunteers. Cathy Salter, wife of Emeritus Geography Department Chair Kit Salter, was a PCV in Thailand in the 1960s, as was former Chancellor Brady Deaton (husband of Dr. Anne Deaton who spearheaded the idea that evolved into The Common Ingredient.) Nina Mukerjee Furstenau and Vicky Riback Wilson both served in the Peace Corps in Africa. 

Cathy Salter’s  Baked Mushrooms + White Beans casserole. 

Another contributor is Taylor Fox, a returned Peace Corps volunteer, and an MU graduate with a bachelors degree in journalism and a masters degree in geography. The recipe and food story she submitted to The Common Ingredient reflect a poignant connection to her Cuban heritage through a dish her grandmother used to make. When her grandmother Mamina passed away during Covid-19, Taylor shared Mamina’s recipe for “picadillo” — seasoned ground beef with black beans and rice.

Geographer and sous chef Kit Salter mashing potatoes to accompany a Sycamore  Restaurant recipe for "French Hamburgers."

From the beginning of time, a common ingredient that has connected us is love. There has never in our lifetime been a better time to come together and remember that there is joy to be found in sharing food with others, wherever you break bread around the planet.  

I invite you to visit “The Common Ingredient”, nourish your spirit, and help feed our community at this critical time of food insecurity, both global and local. We’re all in this together. Because it’s all about a common thread that connects us as geographers and global citizens — food, family, stories, and a shared concern for our world.