The Recipe Everyone Is Looking For

David Spero RN
7 min readDec 19, 2022


The harder things get, the more we need stone soup.


Growing up, one of my favorite stories was the folk tale called Stone Soup. You’ve probably heard a version of it. It’s a story about sharing and transformation. Stone Soup came back to me by apparent coincidence last week, screaming, ‘Tell me! People need me now.” So I’m sharing a version and what I get from it; see what you think.

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A country had been at war, and they were devastated. Farmers hadn’t been able to tend their fields; men were off fighting instead of working; hunger and famine were everywhere.

The war had recently wound down; there was a ceasefire, and a young soldier was struggling to get home, pulling a small wooden cart he had made or found somewhere. One afternoon, he came upon a small village; its fields mostly untended, some of their houses fallen in, people looking thin and desperate.

The soldier saw an old woman at a well and asked her, “Is there somewhere I can sleep and eat tonight?”

“There’s not a bit of food in the whole county,” she replied. “You’d best keep moving.”

The villagers didn’t have enough food for their families, and they were afraid. So they hid the small amounts they did have. They even hid food from their neighbors and friends. How likely were they to share with a stranger?

The soldier had a rifle; he could have threatened the villagers, but they would have denied having anything. It would have been ugly. The soldier tried another way.

“Oh,” he told the old woman, loud enough for others to hear. “I have everything I need. In fact, I would like to make some stone soup to share with all of you.”

He pulled a black cooking pot from his cart. He filled it with water and built a fire under it. Then, he reached slowly into his knapsack and, while several villagers watched, he pulled a gray stone from a cloth bag.

“This is a magic stone,” he told the people who were gathering. “It will make us a delicious soup. You’ll see.” And he dropped it into the water.

After a couple of minutes, the water got warmer, and the soldier started stirring it. He sniffed the pot and licked his lips. “Ahh,” he said aloud to himself, “I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with a little onion is even better.”

He kept stirring and waited. Soon a villager came into the village square, carrying two small onions. “From my garden,” he said.

“Fantastic!” cried the soldier. The He chopped the onion and added it to the pot. The fragrance drew more villagers. “You know,” he said, “I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of beef, and it was delicious.”

The town butcher said he thought he could find some beef scraps. As he ran back to his half-ruined shop, other villagers offered bits of garden vegetables — cabbage, potatoes, carrots, celery, garlic. Some women brought seasonings they had had no way to use during the famine and added them to the soup. Soon the big black pot was bubbling and steaming and smelling wonderful.

When the soup was ready, everyone in the village, even children, brought bowls and had some. People relaxed and for a couple of hours, enjoyed life as they had before the war. The villagers offered the soldier money and household treasures for the magic stone, but he refused to sell it. “I need this one,” he said. “I’m sure you can find your own.”

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The next day the young man traveled on, but what happened to the villagers? Weren’t they back in the same misery in which the soldier had found them? Yes and no. Their environment was the same, but the people were different. Their narrative of reality had changed.

Instead of being trapped as individuals trying to survive extreme scarcity, they could now see themselves as a community that could scrounge up sufficient resources. Instead of fearing their neighbors, they could trust them. They could help each other replant and rebuild. They faced many hungry nights to come, but they knew better days would come.

Does this story sound at all like our present global crisis? In the rich world, there is no famine yet, but every day more people become homeless, more people go hungry and lack health care. Meanwhile, in the global South, famine, droughts and deserts are spreading. Countries are sinking deeper into unpayable debt.

In Stone Soup, the villagers moved from a life of fear, scarcity and separation to a world based on sufficiency and sharing. Maybe it was just for one day, or maybe the new vision took hold and guided them to a better future.

Don’t we need such a transformation here and now? Capitalism is explicitly based on core beliefs that humans are born selfish and greedy. The pseudo-science of economics starts from the long discredited axiom that “material self-interest” is everyone’s prime motivator. Economists say it’s ‘human nature,’ and that motives like community, ethics, love, sympathy, or patriotism can’t compete with individual greed.

A society based on this axiom rewards production and hoarding of wealth, makes everyone insecure, and punishes poor people. It creates great wealth for some at the expense of others and more importantly, of the Natural world, from which all wealth comes.

Myths of scarcity and separation are baked so deeply into capitalist (and most socialist) societies we don’t even know we’re living in them. We see people sleeping in the street and think it’s their own fault. We see forests disappearing, species going extinct, droughts, famines, floods and heat waves, and we don’t connect their destruction to all the wealth we see around us in the rich cities and suburbs.

We think we have no choice. Individualism and pursuit of material wealth are the way the world works. But what if someone came to town with a magic stone and showed us a better way?

Where magic stones come from

In my version of Stone Soup, was the young soldier a con man, or was he a healer? Clearly, he was both. He must have done this routine before, else, why was he carrying a “magic” stone around in a sack?

In other versions, the stranger is an old man who pulls a cooking pot out from under a long robe. The older man doesn’t say the stone is magic; he just says he’s cooking stone soup. He uses the same patter and personal charisma the soldier did to get the villagers’ buy-in.

In some versions, he pulls a village elder aside at the end and explains that the village can make stone soup without him. In my version, people had to figure out for themselves that the magic was within them. They only had to transform their narrative of the world.

Is such a transformation possible, in a world completely dominated by believers in fear, separation and scarcity? I don’t know, but the story itself gives several clues.

● Transformative ideas can come from anywhere,. We don’t usually listen to young soldiers returning from war or to old men wandering around in robes. We don’t listen to thinkers of color, especially women. We don’t listen to indigenous thinkers, especially those from poor countries where people don’t speak English. We might listen better to activists who put on a show as the soldier did, which seems to be happening on platforms like TikTok.

● People can change more radically than we imagine. “Human Nature” is extremely flexible and capable of responding to all kinds of environments. Neuroscientist and primate researcher Robert Sapolsky PhD wrote, “Human nature is not to have a fixed nature.”

● Sharing is normal; it was universal in prehistory. Welcoming travelers is a top value in many places. Stone Soup is a European story from the 18th Century. It wouldn’t have made sense outside of Europe, before capitalism, because everyone would have welcomed the stranger, however meager their provisions.

Indigenous people see self-interest as a disease and used to expel people who practiced it too strongly. The nations of the Great Plains and Great Lakes in North America called the spirit of hoarding Wendigo and had various rituals and practices for driving it away. They did this because people had to share and cooperate to survive.

Feeding and housing travelers and sometimes the poor is still the rule in many cultures today. Only with the rise of capitalism, with its worship of wealth, have materialism and hoarding become normal at the individual and the national levels.

● Each helps in their own way. Notice the villagers weren’t following some five year plan dictated by a government. They weren’t obeying market forces telling them where they could get the best price. Each contributed what they felt inspired and able to do.

● Don’t forget the stone. The soldier’s recipe would not have worked without the stone. It symbolizes the solid Earth which can bring us together if we let it.

Learning to share and cooperate would change everything about our societies, but our current problems go far beyond interpersonal relationships. We need to relearn love for Nature and take a Stone Soup approach to healing Her. Books and articles have been written about things we could do to stabilize the climate, restore forests and wetlands, soils and seas.

We need to do those things to help Earth heal, and we need to let Earth heal us too. Like the villagers, do what you are called to do and able to do. This movement is the Stone Soup we need to make.

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Thanks for reading! Please comment, share, or steal. Follow me on Twitter, on Facebook ,my Substack Make Earth Sacred Again, or my blog The Inn by the Healing Path. Hire me for freelancing, editing, or tutoring on Linked In



David Spero RN

Alive in this place and time to help Make Earth Sacred Again. Write about Nature, economics, health, politics, and spirit from Earths point of view.