Shreveport now ranks highest in the nation for obesity, with an average obesity rate of 36.2%. This percentage is up from 22% only 17 years ago. It’s true our beignets, crawfish etouffee, and bourbon bread pudding also rank highest in the nation— in taste tests— but it’s our love for these fatty foods that have led to our high obesity rate. With obesity at epidemic proportions in Louisiana, one small, renovated house in Shreveport’s Highland neighborhood seeks to turn the tide.

While scrolling through Instagram a few weeks ago, one picture grabbed my attention—a quaint, blue cottage. It was a picture of the new building that houses Well+Fed La, a local juicing restaurant. I was familiar with Well+Fed La, as its owner Lindsi Martin and I got to know one another at the Shreveport Farmer’s Market two years ago. I had no idea that they had bought and renovated a building in Highland. The most interesting pictures on social media are the ones customers take on the newly built back deck. It’s a grand, beautiful wooden structure with plenty of tables and chairs, set next to a landscaped back yard. “The deck needed to be torn down. It was rotten, and we had to rebuild it. It’s a lot bigger than we originally planned,” said Ashley Everage, business partner to Lindsi. It’s good the back deck is large and welcoming, as it appears to be a big part of what draws crowds—a creative space to relax. Their recent story of success goes beyond juicing and beautiful, creative Instagram pictures. This is a story of hard work, love for community, and a passion to see Shreveport become a healthy beacon of light in our state.

“Now, you’re not from here, right?” I asked Lindsi during a meeting a few weeks ago. She smiled, affirming my memory. Lindsi moved to Shreveport years ago to pursue a career as a Physical Therapy Assistant. “That didn’t work out and I started working at Fit Nation. That’s where I met Ashley,” she said. It turns out that we have the local health community to thank for helping Well+Fed La find their start in Shreveport. “At the end of workouts, Fit Nation started giving out samples of juices. Everyone thought the juice was good, so we decided to take a chance and start selling cold-pressed juice at the Shreveport Farmer’s Market 3 years ago.” The juices were well-received. “I don’t think we would have had the same measure of success even 5 years ago. Shreveporters are becoming more health conscious. They’re more aware of what they’re eating,” said Ashley. Indeed, this seems to be the case, with local groups like Slow Food La popping up and more Farmer’s Markets all over the city. There seems to be a booming demand for fresh, local, and organic in the Shreveport-Bossier community.

Although I attend most of these Farmer’s Markets and try to eat healthy every night, the closest I’ve been to a juicing machine was when my best friend in college bought a juicer and went on an all juice diet. So, what exactly is juicing, and what are the benefits? Juicing follows a simple two-step process: grinding and pressure. First, the vegetables and fruits are put into a grinder. The grinder produces pulp which is then pushed through a strainer, and the high pressure extracts all the juice from the pulp, along with all vital nutrients. Another healthy component to juicing is the cold-press process. Most juices are heated, which kills a lot of the healthy nutrients in fruits and vegetables. Through the cold-press process, each bottle of juice retains the maximum amount of nutrients. Without pasteurization, each juice has a shelf-life of 3 days, although this doesn’t seem to be a problem for a Well+Fed. When I arrived for the interview, not a single customer took their juice to go, but rather everyone quickly drank their juice. The drinks are tasty and healthy, and folks clearly want to drink them right away. “I think folks are most surprised when they hear how many vegetables we use throughout the day,” Lindsi said, “It’s not uncommon for us to go through 50 pounds of carrots in an hour. Each drink has about 1 pound of carrots.” Here in Louisiana we pride ourselves on being connoisseurs of taste, so maybe instead of judging butter and grease for taste, we can judge strawberries and carrots too. When asked about their greatest success, they said it’s hearing people who don’t like vegetables say their juices are delicious, “We are helping people like fruits and vegetables.”

I’d like to say Well+Fed’s success comes from filling a “health void” here in Shreveport. We are sorely lacking in healthy food options, and, indeed, there is a market for this type of food. But if most folks liked eating healthy foods, we wouldn’t be the fattest state in the nation. No, Well+Fed’s success comes from our first love here in the bayou state—community. If there’s something we love more than powdered beignets, it’s talking with our neighbors or sharing beers and laughter with our friends. We are a talkative, motely group of folks. We are loud and boisterous and exciting. We like to have a good time, which brings me back to that big deck. When Well+Fed built their giant back deck, they probably had no idea it would be such a vital part of their success, but I think the deck is precisely what gets people through the doors and drinking bottles of rose water and carrot lemon juice. Their beautifully renovated home in the heart of Highland conveys this message, “We’re here with you, Shreveport. We love your history. We love your homes and your architecture and your people. So we’ve renovated a home built in 1903. We did this for you, Shreveport, and we built you a giant back deck to come and congregate. Our doors are open. We welcome you.” So people come in droves, and they gladly drink bottles of fresh juice. And maybe it’ll be this combination of healthy foods and lively conversation that will kick-start Louisiana into creating the healthier culture we need.