Food – like music and the weather – is something that brings people together. In an area like southeast Ohio where food can be hard to come by, it is all the more important. 

Families Eating Affordably and Sustainably Together, or FEAST, is an 18-week cooking workshop from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. presented by Athens SNAP-Ed, Live Healthy Appalachia, Community Food Initiatives, Athens County Hunger Prevention Coalition and Athens County Public Libraries at the Nelsonville Public Library, 95 W. Washington St., Nelsonville, Ohio. FEAST is free and family-friendly. 

“FEAST is a collaboration,” Susie Huser, community engagement and donation station program director at Community Food Initiatives, said. 

This is the second year of FEAST programming. The workshops start in November and conclude in April. Each workshop requires pre-registration and up to 15 people can attend each time. FEAST is hands-on; attendees cook, then eat. Registration is free. 

“We look at affordable, local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients,” Huser said. 

FEAST meals differ from week to week – but all share the common theme of health and sustainability. 

“(We) focus on making delicious foods with whole food ingredients; fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes,” Amy Lipka, director of adult education at Live Healthy Appalachia, said.

In a region like Appalachia, access to food isn’t always guaranteed -- especially healthy food. For Lipka, FEAST dinners give people a positive experience around healthy foods and empower healthy choices.

“We’re promoting health and wellness in a non-judgemental way,” she said.

All dinners are structured in a similar way, Lipka explained. Meals and menus are designed around a theme. Then, recipes and ingredients are inspired by the respective theme. Recipes are also designed to be made by multiple people. 

“We think about recipes we might make in a group setting,” Lipka said. “(We think of things for) little kids to do – different tasks – easy tasks (like) measuring things.”

The library is a real gathering hub in the county, Lipka added. 

The Nelsonville Public Library is a good venue for FEAST, Jordyn Henderson, wellness access facilitator at the Athens County Public Libraries, said. Dinners are upstairs in a large conference room and makes for a great, roomy space. 

Sustainability is also an important part of FEAST dinners. Ingredients used are often locally-sourced and utilize seasonal options. 

For Celina Fojas, peer wellness coordinator at Live Healthy Appalachia, FEAST dinners are affordable, too. 

“We tend to shop on the cheap side,” Fojas said. “Meals are usually about $15 to feed about 10 people.”

Ingredients are bought from local groceries like Kroger and food-suppliers like CFI. A lot of FEAST meals are plant-based. 

“We show people that eating healthy plant-based foods (isn’t) expensive,” Fojas said.

Once cooking is done, the meal is served amongst attendees. To Lipka, it’s a very social time.

“We all eat together ... (and) talk about how things are made and (the) insights people have,” Lipka said. 

Lipka stressed that FEAST workshops are a collaborative effort, not only amongst sponsors and hosts, but between local participants, too.

“(It’s) great to do something like this but (we at Live Healthy Appalachia do) not take on the whole thing,” Lipka said. “Each organization brings (its) own membership to the group.”

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