Allison Casparian has spent her entire adult life working in food. Before moving to Black Mountain in 2011 and becoming a volunteer at the Black Mountain Welcome Table, she held “a very corporate” job in New York providing food services to big clients like IBM and Manhattan department stores.
“I just had no idea the level of food insecurity or poverty that was here,” Casparian says. “But once you face it, you have to do something about it. You can’t turn your back or not help.”
When the Welcome Table dissolved in 2012, Casparian decided to launch Bounty & Soul, a pop-up food market that offers food assistance and wellness demonstrations to underserved communities in Buncombe County. But Casparian knew the market she was launching needed to offer more than food.
Growing up in an immigrant family, Casparian spent a lot of time with her grandparents in their garden. “Food was always from out of the garden and cooked well,” she says. “I never thought of any other way to eat. That’s just how it was.”
When she was in her 20s, Casparian was diagnosed with late stage Lyme disease, but says she experienced a remarkable recovery. “At the time, it didn’t occur to me to think that it was because of the food I was eating that I recovered so well,” she says. But four years ago, Casparian experienced a second personal health crisis that, this time, nearly took her life. “When I was healing from that situation, I knew it was a miracle that I had survived,” she says. “I finally realized there’s really something to what I’m eating.”
It was the first revelation in Casparian’s new approach to food. “I was in this space of thinking everyone should have this food, and that if everyone had this food, then everyone would be healthy,” she says. And that quickly led to her second realization: “People aren’t eating this food because they don’t have a choice.”
Bounty & Soul was founded on the mission of “caring about the food we give out,” Casparian says. The organization offers nutritious food and demonstrations on everything from cooking light to exercise and meditation. To date, Bounty & Soul has held over 150 workshops and reached 37,800 participants. “That’s why we call it Bounty & Soul,” Casparian says. “It’s the food part and the soul part — realizing that they are both important.”