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Moveable Feasts

A “Moveable Feast” in religious terms is a holy day whose date changes from year to year; the Christian Ash Wednesday, for example, is always 46 days before Easter. The term “feast” as used in a strictly religious context may well imply a fast rather than an eating experience.

American author Ernest Hemingway, in his memoir A Moveable Feast, used the term in an extended way to refer to the ongoing party he seemed to be attending during his days as a young writer in Paris. The book was a bestseller, the phrase, in its food sense, caught on, and now dozens of American catering companies use the term “Moveable Feast” in their company names. The term is also used by a number of community organizations that specialize in delivering meals to the needy and homebound.

While caterers use the word “moveable” to stress that they will come to you, a different kind of moveable feast has become popular in recent years; in this case the diners are the ones who move from location to location. Going under a number of names—“restaurant hopping,” “chefs night out,” or “community food fest”—the concept is simple: move from restaurant to restaurant, sample dishes, and have a great time. The typical event sponsor is a town or neighborhood merchants’ association, an educational or cultural association, or a charity. Community and religious organizations also organize moveable feasts allowing participants to consume appetizers at one member’s home, main courses at another home, desserts at a third, often on a pot luck basis, meaning the actual participants provide the dishes. A major children’s hospital charity puts on an annual moveable feast as a fund raising effort, each year highlighting a different country’s cuisine.

A moveable feast could involve nearly any type of food, from street snacks to ethnic foods to gourmet offerings. A 2006 moveable feast held in a small town in the northeast, involving several restaurants, offered an elaborate evening of dining to participants for an all-inclusive fee of $100 for the food and accompanying wine. The first course (lobster at all three restaurants) and the second course (duck) were followed by a half hour break so participants could browse through local shops, which stayed open all evening long. The third course (fish) and fourth course (beef) were followed by another shopping break, followed by a sumptuous dessert. The same merchants’ association sponsors numerous events during the year—“Girl’s Night Out,” “Art Gallery Hop”—bringing in business for all the town’s shops and restaurants. Another town’s merchants take the opposite strategy for their moveable feast: offer food and snacks free as an incentive for shoppers during the December holiday season.