All the Wild Hungers
Winner of the 2020 Minnesota Book Award in Memoir & Creative Nonfiction
“My sister is pregnant with a Lemon this week, Week 14, and this is amusing. My mother’s uterine tumor, the size of a cabbage, is Week 30, and this is terrifying.”
When her mother is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Karen Babine—a cook, collector of thrifted vintage cast iron, and fiercely devoted daughter, sister, and aunt—can’t help but wonder: feed a fever, starve a cold, but what do we do for cancer? And so she commits herself to preparing her mother anything she will eat, a vegetarian diving headfirst into the unfamiliar world of bone broth and pot roast.
In these essays, Babine ponders the intimate connections between food, family, and illness. What draws us toward food metaphors to describe disease? What is the power of language, of naming, in a medical culture where patients are too often made invisible? How do we seek meaning where none is to be found—and can we create it from scratch? And how, Babine asks as she bakes cookies with her small niece and nephew, does a family create its own food culture across generations?
Generous and bittersweet, All the Wild Hungers is an affecting chronicle of one family’s experience of illness and of a writer’s culinary attempt to make sense of the inexplicable.
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Praise and Prizes
“Profound . . . beautiful . . . Life, yes. But death, or its inevitability, hovers over every page, a wolf at the door of the warm, aromatic kitchen. Anyone who has experienced a family member’s struggle with cancer will be stabbed by recognition throughout this book, as when Babine writes, ‘We don’t ask, how are you doing? anymore—we ask, how is today?’ . . . In the end, the overriding hunger referred to in this lovely book’s title is the hunger for life. Perhaps it is never stronger than in the shadow of death, and in the light of death’s opposite, love.”
“The book is replete with style. . . . Achingly sad and incredibly beautiful, Karen Babine’s All the Wild Hungers is a welcoming invitation to dinner, family, and laughter, evoking a warm, full kitchen and good company.”
“Babine’s essays focus on food as a vehicle for handling the pain of her mother’s cancer diagnosis. . . . her lines are like poetry—which is exactly how good food, and family, should be.”
“A lush gem of a book, both heartbreaking and heart-making. Karen Babine’s language is the plush dough she kneads, her observations as elastic as gluten bubbles. By the book’s conclusion you will become a child again, standing on a chair to peer into the pot, not wanting the process of making—of cooking, of understanding, of, as she says, ‘consum[ing] knowing’—to ever end.”
“In this beautiful and haunting book, Karen Babine leads us into the kitchen and cooks healing meals for her mother and herself. With humor and imagination, she names each of her cast iron pots, reclaimed from thrift stores, and simmers the elements of grief and longing, hope and love, with acceptance, insight, and wisdom.”
“Transportive and vivid . . . Babine’s writing brims with tenderness—for her family, her home, and the food she prepares—warming readers’ hearts.”
“Refreshing . . . [the reader] is left with a sense of thoughtfulness about food and family, and so much more.”
“For the author, food sustains like a lifeline or even a bloodline. . . . [Babine] continues to navigate her way through extraordinary challenges with ordinary comforts, finding poetry in the everyday. Reading this quiet book should provide the sort of balm for those in similar circumstances.”
“In All the Wild Hungers, Karen Babine welcomes us into the small consolations and quiet moments that define a life. These elegant meditations on food, faith, and family ring with absolute truth and clarity.”
“As Karen Babine astutely notes, cancer divides us, sharpens distinctions, isolates, and quarantines. But All the Wild Hungers reunifies (mother and daughter, sufferer and witness, writer and reader) through metaphors of food and family as a private grief is made bearable and shareable in brief, calm, threatening essays about how everyday life must continue amidst uncertainty and pain. The book powerfully and beautifully enacts the stillness we need to survive.”
“Lucid, funny, and jarring . . . Moving without being maudlin, tautly written without being sparse or barren . . . It’s hard not to whip through the whole work in one sitting, so propulsive is the book’s pacing and so effective is Babine’s writing.”
“The writing combines Lia Purpura’s lyrical precision and the clear-eyed directness of Roxane Gay. . . . I admired the anti-velocity of the narrative, its attention to the small moment, its recognition that small moments are often big moments.”