Live Healthy Appalachia promotes healthy and active living among the town of Athens through educational programs and partnership with local organizations. Plant-based education is its main focus, and it starts with teaching how to properly cook fruits and vegetables.
“We're just trying to teach people how to consume more whole natural foods,” Heidi Fischer, executive director of Live Healthy Appalachia, said. “For our educational programs, we have programs for both adults and children. In the community, we're just going out, teaching them how to cook these plant based foods, introducing them to new recipes.”
Live Healthy has multiple outreach programs ranging from children to adults. The classes range from hands-on, pre-COVID-19 to online-based teaching methods and cook-at-home meals amid COVID-19.
For kids, finding ways to promote healthy living can prove difficult. However, Live Healthy’s objective is to abolish the stigma of “eating better” at a young age.
“We partner with all of the elementary schools in Athens County to do a program called the Healthy Kids,” Laura Olbers, director of children’s program at Live Healthy, said. “That got a little wonky over the last year, but essentially, Live Healthy kids is a program for second graders where we go into the classroom, and we do nutrition education, some physical activity. The kids actually get to participate in cooking a meal in their classroom.”
This program provides kids with first-hand experience of cooking healthy foods at a young age, which is a pivotal time for building healthy habits. Seeing change is Live Healthy’s motivation, and lives are able to be changed with healthy direction. Live Healthy Appalachia has been able to experience the change with some of its very own.
“I saw a volunteer opportunity to be a cooking coach for the cooking classes that Live Healthy was offering, so I decided to do that,” Susan Jago, treasurer for Live Healthy, said. “People often ask me if it's hard to eat this way, and it's not. It's hard to transition to this way of eating because it's so different. So it's very difficult to go out to restaurants — you have to learn who has the kind of food that you will eat. But as far as cooking at home, most people have 10 or 12 recipes that they rotate through all the time, right? Once you find those 10 to 12 vegan recipes, it becomes easy.”
Finding a starting place can be difficult, but luckily, Live Healthy provides great starting points and suggestions on its website.
Educating is the first step to living a healthier lifestyle, and sometimes, eating better can be tied into the stigma that follows closely behind the word “diet.” However, through its outreach programs, Live Healthy Appalachia is working to abolish this stigma.
“I'm just very passionate about what we do and why we do it,” Fischer said. “And I just know that we've changed so many lives and saved so many lives because of what we do. It's very empowering to young people who participate in our programming because it's not a diet. We're giving them this lifestyle. And that's one word that we hear over and over and over again, and it's very empowering. They feel like ‘Oh, OK, I'm in control of my health now. I make these decisions, and it's not something I feel like I have to do, but I want to do it.’”
Along with empowering others, plant-based foods do not have to be boring. Fischer, Joga and Olbers are helping to educate the possibilities of different types of nutritional foods that are still aesthetically pleasing and appetizing to the eye.
“When you tell people ‘I eat a plant based diet,’ they think you eat twigs,” Joga said. “So this was actually my post this morning — for the people that think I (eat) twigs and sticks — it was a picture of my chickpea flour pancakes with frozen blueberries, banana and a little maple syrup on it.”
Plant-based foods and healthy living aren’t made to be boring and constraining; they are made to be freeing and empowering. They are made to be leaders to helping one become in tune with their body. Live Healthy Appalachia has seen first-hand what a healthy lifestyle can do and the fulfillment and reward it can lead to.
“I think Live Healthy Appalachia is always a great place to start if you're looking at making any sort of lifestyle changes,” Olbers said. “We kind of ease people into more plant-based living and eating. We kind of meet people where they are. We don't expect you to make radical changes right away. We don't tell you what not to eat by any means. We just want to encourage people to move more and get more grains — whole grains, more greens and things like that — just enjoy the process of cooking and the process of eating.”