students at Chief Sealth High School
photo (c) FEEST
“What would it look like if we just cooked?” That’s the question FEEST Executive Director and career youth mentor Lisa Chen says the non-profit organization’s founders asked themselves when it was created in Youngstown back in 2006 by a group of artists with a vision and a CSA (community supported agriculture) box.
FEEST stands for Food Empowerment Education and Sustainability Team, and the organization is a weekly youth-led dinner program that engages young people at Evergreen and Chief Sealth high schools on issues of civic and social justice, food security, cultural expression, and community development. They gather 35 to 40 youth once a week to cook an improvised dinner using a table of fresh vegetables from a local farm. Their mission is to set the table for young people to transform the health and equity of their community by gathering around food and working toward systems change.
Chen, who has worked with FEEST since 2012, was raised as an only child by a single immigrant mother, and she says she saw first-hand how people with limited English-language skills were treated unfairly. She says that’s why her life – both professionally and personally – has been focused on activities that involve mentoring young people. “When you invest your time with young people, you are able to say ‘Yes, you can do those things,’ and ‘Yes, you should be doing those things,” she says. “And this organization combined two of my personal passions – food and youth mentoring.”
Originally funded through the King County Food and Fitness Initiative, a community coalition formed in 2006 funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, FEEST is now funded primarily through private foundations. Starting with donated food, the group now buys all the food they use from Lee’s Produce – a farm in White Center. “It’s literally down the street from Chief Sealth,” Chen says.
In 2012, FEEST released a 118-page replication manual and 90-minute DVD instructing other community youth leaders on how to develop their own FEEST program. So far, this has spun off organizations in New York, California, Iowa, and Massachusetts.
On Friday night, FEEST will hold an event Chen calls “our first big ask to the community to sustain and continue FEEST through the next year.” She’s talking about FEEST’s inaugural FRESH FLAVOR Cocktail Party at the Atrium in Pike Place Market. The event offers a night of make-your-own artisanal cocktail stations, cooking demos by local chef Tarik Abdullah, music by Vitamin D and Hollis Wong-Wear, and delicious bites from local restaurants.
Chen believes it’s time for the community to be more aware of FEEST and offer its financial support. “We believe the community should be directly funding this work because it directly benefits the community,” she says.
“Our mission is to set the table for young people to transform the health and equity of their community by gathering around food and working towards systems change,” reads FEEST’s mission statement. “We hope youth, people of color and immigrants begin to be viewed as an important and powerful force in the food justice movement.”
More information about FEEST can be found here.