ABINGDON, Va. — A creative workshop never before held in the area will help people explore their relationships to food, culture and family.

Miriam Sauls and Vernessa Riley-Foelix have spent years developing “Feast of Your Life,” a daylong program they have presented around the world — in North Carolina, where both women grew up and Sauls now lives, and as far away as Switzerland, where Riley-Foelix currently resides.

The workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24, at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace, formerly Heartwood, in Abingdon.

According to Sauls, the event will feature memoir writing, visual expression and eating “a phenomenal meal,” catered by chef Charles Parker, culinary ambassador at the cultural center. Nearly all of the food served will be locally sourced. The menu will feature Parker’s award-winning soup, coconut curry butternut squash; arugula pesto pork loin roulade; kale and quinoa salad; and berry cobbler.

“I am fascinated [by] how people’s food experiences relate to who they are, what their culture is and their family’s relationship to food,” said Sauls, a writer, theater producer and documentary filmmaker who specializes in arts, culture and food.

Riley-Foelix is a painter and works in ceramics. She has taught, exhibited her work and organized creative workshops for more than 30 years, both in the United States and Europe.

“Fifteen years ago, there was not much being written about our relationships with food. Now, there is something new every single day in the media. Food is a huge subject with topics like sustainability, farm-to-table and diets.”

Sauls said the workshop results in rich responses through writing and the visual arts from the students.

“We’ve never had a student who didn’t really feel so fascinated by the workshop because they didn’t know all these things were inside of them,” said Sauls.

“For example, my family really valued local, fresh food. I came from a family of eaters, and we made our parents happy if we were good and happy eaters. But it was a joyful thing with no pressure, and it wasn’t something that led to obesity,” she said.

However, not all of their students have had happy experiences.

“One student in the workshop was unknowingly allergic to dairy products and was forced to drink milk at the dinner table. When she explored through her writing how painful that was, it was very emotional for her. I don’t think she’d ever put that together and how it had affected her relationships with her family, food and her mother.”

According to Sauls, there is also a relationship between food and emotions.

“A student might have had a parent who thought they were chubby as a child and tried to manage their food. There is a huge range of emotions that can arise.”

The format of the workshop will feature exercises in free writing from prompts, as well as visual arts exercises. Participants will illustrate what they have written about through paintings, drawings or collages.

“It’s a full and intense day but a lot of fun,” said Sauls. “Each exercise builds on the thing before it.

“We will ‘stir up’ our food memories to explore experiences in our lives that have made us who we are. You may be surprised how many of life’s meaningful moments happen around the table.”

Sauls said the workshops have attracted a broad range of ages — from young adults to grandmothers.

In addition to exploring experiences, participants will learn new techniques for writing and visual expression.

“Most importantly, we’d like for them to leave the workshop realizing how key food is in our lives, families and culture and to really experience that throughout the day,” said the instructor.

“We provide books for words and artwork, and one of the things we tell our students is there will be plenty of room in that book to keep up this work. We hope they leave with way more ideas than they have time to pursue in the course of the day.”

The cost of the workshop is $150 and covers all writing and art supplies, instruction, snacks and a meal.

Sponsors of the event are Katbird’s Wine and Gourmet, Peyton Boyd, A Likely Yarn/Janet Woolwine and Park Street Guest House/Janet Woolwine.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.swva.mybigcommerce.com. The workshop is limited to 12 participants.

Check out the “Feast of Your Life” website at www.feastofyourlife.com.

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Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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