May 23, 2024

love food. I bet you do, too. I’m learning to love trying new food, too (although historically that hasn’t always been the case). But, perhaps ashamedly, I must admit that there have been times, over the years, while traveling overseas and experiencing other cuisines that, after a while, I just really craved an American cheeseburger. Or hot dog. Or pizza. Not because it’s necessarily delicious (although sometimes it is)… but because it’s familiar. With all my other senses encountering new sights, new smells, new sounds, some part of me just wanted something known. My tastebuds wanted something that felt normal to me, even if nothing else was.

Food is important to humans. Not only is it our daily sustenance, it also grounds us. It has a way of “bringing us home”, even if we aren’t actually there. I have felt the dismay of traversing a grocery store in a new country, trying to substitute ingredients to make a favorite recipe. I remember trying to eat homemade spaghetti in Costa Rica once. It almost tasted like it was supposed to, but it wasn’t really the same at all. Or when I ordered Subway in the Delhi airport in India – my familiar turkey sub on white bread with mayo and lettuce had turned into a curry flavored something that left me slightly disappointed. Even the American chain restaurants tasted different halfway across the world. 

I am deeply empathetic toward our refugee friends in a lot of ways, but food is something I can more readily identify with. Not being able to eat the same foods, cook recipes in the same way, have access to the same ingredients? It’s like… if everything else has to be different, can’t just one thing be the same? Apparently not. But, I want that for them. I really do. 

Since my first days at City of Refuge, food has always been a large component of many discussions. Excitement and energy surrounded the various foods our staff and volunteers were privileged to try because of our proximity to worldwide neighbors. Different spices and spice mixtures, extreme levels of heat, even unique vegetables they had figured out how to grow or forage. It’s truly one of the many perks of the job. The people we work with love to cook and they love to share their delicious cuisine with us.

Ideas began brewing in my head. How can we make food more of a “thing” here at City of Refuge? How can we bring different recipes and flavors to our city – flavors that our friends miss, flavors that they long to share? 

So, naturally, in my first few months on the job, I began to dream about a City of Refuge food truck. What if… we had a truck that could serve multiple purposes? It could employ, it could train, it could engage with the community, it could educate, it could empower. I began to share the dream. I got lots of polite smiles and heads shaking. It was a nice dream after all. I imagined their unsaid words skating through the silence, “This lady is crazy”. Maybe I was. Maybe I am. 

Because, you see, the dream is no longer a dream. 

We are thrilled to announce that City Cuisine will be entering the Columbia food trailer scene in the late summer of 2024. Funded by a workforce empowerment grant, we are already realizing the dream by laying a foundation through cooking classes, curriculum development, and menu planning. We anticipate a rotating menu of flavors from around the world (including some American favorites!); a “global fusion” of sorts. 

We’re excited to learn from our refugee friends and we’re excited to prepare them for the possibility of entering the culinary workforce in America. From commercial kitchen equipment, to food handler’s permits, to knife sharpening skills… there is a lot to learn. Our hope with this initiative is threefold:

  • To provide the training, experience, and English language needed to successfully enter kitchens across the city 
  • To set our entrepreneurial friends up to launch their own restaurants in the coming years. We envision a city filled with restaurants featuring authentic, yummy food from all over the world. We want to equip our friends to share their food on a larger scale, providing the business acumen and managerial experience to do so. 
  • To be able to provide part-time employment and supplemental income as newcomers need it (maybe even some of our moms who have kiddos enrolled at City Preschool!) 

We’re also looking forward to the awareness a food truck can bring to the community. Every day we encounter folks who don’t know about City of Refuge, who don’t know that there are thousands and thousands of refugees who live in mid-Missouri, who don’t even know what a refugee is. 

We anticipate that City Cuisine will impart education and opportunity. We imagine laughter and joy as our arms and our taste buds open to new people and new flavors. Be on the lookout for how our City Cuisine journey unfolds in the next weeks and months. We plan to be parked at 10 N. Garth Ave. most weekdays and at your favorite events throughout the year. AND if you want to see us at your place of work, an event, or want to plan a fundraiser for City of Refuge using City Cuisine as a focal point? We’d love to chat! Email us:

Get ready for the heat, Columbia. 

Debbie Beal

Executive Director

*Graphic is a representation and not a replica

We are looking for college-age students to be apart of our Summer Internship Program! We are currently seeking to fill the roles of Education Intern and Business/Operation Intern.

Join us at our Summer Market; in Celebration of World Refuge Day. The market will feature refuge and local artisans, a variety of food trucks, activities for kids, and multi-cultural entertainment. We can’t wait to see you there!

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