By Jackson Leon

Whether you want inspiration for new recipes or are interested in learning more about our country’s food system, the Albany Food Readers Book Club will allow you to engage in riveting discussion. In the company of passionate foodies topics included: incredible ingredients and dishes, as well as, the importance of what we put into our bodies. Every two months, this group gathers to discuss a new book, each one with a different message but all revolved around the delicious world of food. This past Saturday, myself and several other local foodies gathered in the Community Room at the Honest Weight Food Co-op to discuss Melanie Warner’s Pandora’s Lunchbox, a riveting story about how processed food is taking over the American meal.

One of the main points of Melanie’s book—and our first discussion topic on Saturday—is how the amount of money that we as a society spend on food is decreasing more and more each year. This not only represents how ridiculously high the cost of living has become, but also portrays a scary health issue that is sweeping across our country. Eating healthy has become very expensive. The majority of the country is being forced to spend less money on food due to a high living cost; they are being forced to consume far more processed foods than they’d like due to their cheap—more affordable—price. There was another college student, like myself, at the event on Saturday, and we bonded over the fact that paying student bills and working part time has caused us both to abandon what should be the norm—eating healthy and organic—out of financial necessity. We often have no choice but to eat fast food, or even skip meals. This epidemic isn’t an isolated issue. The rise in the cost of eating healthy has in turn caused a rise in processed food production to meet the need for that demographic and an increased health risk to our country.

Our host, Eric Fletcher, was especially passionate about the book and the topics it presented for discussion. He proved to be a great lover of healthy and fresh ingredients, and the delicious dip he brought provided the proof of his passion. It was no surprise that he was especially disgusted by the fact that the chicken we serve kids in schools has a minuscule amount of real meat. The majority of it consists of processed junk and god knows what else. This is the stuff that our children are eating every day as a part of their school lunch. It sickened me as well, and it raised the question as to why nothing is being done about this. Our group found no immediate answer, but we all agreed on the importance of engaging in these discussions to bring better awareness to the issues involving our society’s health and safety.

Our talk wasn’t all negative. We often found ourselves going on tangents about random things such as the importance of authenticity when cooking and eating. I argued that the authenticity of the food itself is very important, but the manner in which you eat it doesn’t matter. Most people agreed with me, but Eric scoffed, saying that emulating the manner and time in which cultures eat their dishes is equally important to authenticity.

Regardless of where you stand, if you appreciate food as the art form it is, this club is the perfect place for you. I’ve always loved to eat, but I didn’t fully realize how passionate I am about the beauty of ingredients, their freshness, and the crafting of new and original recipes until I left the Co-op on Saturday night. With processed foods on the rise, I’ll be sure to value any chance I get to celebrate clean food the way it is meant to be celebrated.