• Nicholas Nelson

Award-Winning “All The Wild Hungers” by Karen Babine

Karen Babine has done it again, winning the 2020 Minnesota Book Award in Memoir/Creative Nonfiction. As the subtitle suggests (A Season of Cooking and Cancer), this book follows Babine’s experience cooking for her mother recovering from chemo treatment. Filled with familial anecdotes to make you laugh, cry, and question your own relationship with family, this book’s core is centered around language used to describe sickness, health, and the conversations we have with our bodies during illness.

Does this book follow a human trying to cope with the struggle of a loved one? Perhaps. Maybe that coping includes purchasing a collection of cast iron skillets in all forms, colors, and brands. Maybe coping doesn’t have a color, as she addresses. Maybe it takes the shape of cooking and various types of food made at different stages of health. Does it feel like an attempt at bettering those around us? Of course.

“In pursuit of bone broth and a miracle,” is how I like to think of this piece. It’s both an adventurous undertaking into the world of culinary experiments, and a think piece on miracles.

My mother has trouble swallowing, complicated by feelings she calls dead belly, like her entire midsection has filled with concrete, exacerbated by incessant belching, so my days are spent in her kitchen with the press of chicken under my fingers, the heft of beef bones, the slice and chop of carrots, onion, and celery, in pursuit of bone broth and a miracle. – Karen Babine, ALL the WILD HUNGERS, pg. 28.

I first read this when it came out in 2019 and absolutely adored it. Attempting this intersection of cooking and cancer is bold and unheard of. This speculation, exploration of where food and cancer intersect, whether in harmony or discord, this book explores those various connections in one work. Allegories of food shaped tumors, comparisons of chemo treatments like recipes, and food recipes for chemo patients unwilling to eat: this book covers it all. Most chapters are just around two pages long, making this an easy book to read, a short chapter or two before bed. This journal-type chapter highlights the variables that cancer and cooking impact during our lives.

Presented beautifully from page one, I’m glad it has received the recognition it has from the Minnesota Book Awards. This is one book that needs to be on the shelf of anyone who enjoys cooking, has had a loved one fight cancer, and anyone who just needs a well-written book. It’s a quick read, but it won’t quickly be forgotten.

Feel free to purchase your copy directly from Milkweed’s website or using your local bookstore.

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