When Jessica Harris was a young woman, she hobnobbed with James Baldwin and Maya Angelou. She ate, danced and drank her way around New York City’s Greenwich Village in the 1970s. Those culturally rich experiences stirred her ambitions and shaped her destiny as a culinary historian and authority on foods of the African diaspora.
Hungry for more? You’ve still got time to read her memoir, “My Soul Looks Back,” and mix it up with the Albany Food Readers Book Club, as the Harris book will be the subject of their virtual meeting on Feb. 6.
Created by Albany resident Eric Fletcher more than four years ago, the club explores food systems, that is all the human actions and interactions that happen on the journey from farm, factory or lab and into our bodies.
“It can go anywhere,” Fletcher says of the club. “We’ve read everything from the history of grocery stores to the history of processed food to “Notes from a Young Black Chef,” which is a memoir from a very talented chef with an incredible story. We read a book about the history of the catering business.”
The December title was “Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln’s Life and Times” by Rae Katherine Eighmey.
Before COVID-19, when the club met in person at Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, Fletcher hosted a screening of the documentary “Forgotten Farms” and panel discussion of Joel Salatin’s book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World.”
In 2016, at the club’s debut meeting, Troy author Amy Halloran joined the discussion of her book “The New Bread Basket: How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers and Brewers are Redefining Our Daily Loaf.”
“She brought these rare grains and flours, cooked us pancakes and participated in the discussion,” Fletcher says.
Since then, the grassroots group, which meets every other month, has read more than 20 books. There are no membership fees, no political agendas and no affiliations to larger organizations.
“Everyone is welcome,” says Fletcher.
Anna Pishko, a Troy resident and home cook who devours chef’s memoirs and food-themed books, discovered the club on Meetup in 2018.
“The atmosphere is very comfortable, and any type of reader can participate,” she says. “The conversations often go beyond the text” and “all points of view are considered in a way that I think everyone can enjoy.”
Like Pishko, Fletcher has always had an appetite for information about what we eat.
“I’ve been fascinated by food ever since I was a young child,” he says. “I would watch the Food Network for hours. And I was exposed to cooking at a young age.”
Fletcher would love to see food readers book clubs sprouting up everywhere, so he set up the Food Readers Organization online at www.foodreaders.com.
“I would like to have food readers book clubs all over the world,” he says.
So far, independently-run chapters have been launched in Chicago and Tucson, Arizona.
“Our goal is to empower participants with a newfound awareness and appreciation of our food system. The goal is knowledge and community building,” says Fletcher.
Albany Food Readers Book Club
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6
WHERE: Virtual meeting
WHAT: “My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir” by Jessica B. Harris
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: albanyfoodreaders.wordpress.com
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