I have a deep, dark, secret. My mom was a health nut in the 80’s, waaaay before Whole Foods and nutrition was such a hot topic. Way before half the population was either a vegan or observed a gluten-free or dairy-free existence.
As a child, on Easter, my sister and I received carob bunnies. I ate naturally sweetened strawberry amaranth cereal for breakfast, instead of candy I got to eat sesame honey sticks and was forced to ingest horse-sized vitamins at a young age. Or rather our living room couch did. I still remember my mother’s horror when she discovered several years worth of vitamins carefully tucked into the depths of the couch.
So when I read the description for Crave by Christine O’Brien, I had to check it out. I totally identified with her story. One passage in particular hit home for me:
The first moment, when tooth and tongue connect with a carob chip, I can’t suppress the hope that springs eternal–maybe it’s secretly chocolate? Maybe chips changed hands and unknowingly, carob chips were swapped for chocolate ones? But once I bite in, my hopes are dashed.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating carob, don’t. Just take my word for it. It’s nasty. And now, studies show it isn’t even actually better for you than chocolate. All the fat and calories without any of the taste. My childhood was a lie.
But Crave was a fun book to read, very nostalgic for me!
From the Publisher:
“Do you mind that I’m going to be writing a book about the fact that I was hungry?” I asked my mother. “Just tell a good story,” she replied.
Hunger comes in many forms. In her memoir, Crave, Christine S. O’Brien tells a story of family turmoil and incessant hunger hidden behind the luxury and privilege of New York’s famed Dakota apartment building. Her explosively angry father was ABC Executive Ed Scherick, the successful television and film producer who created shows and films like ABC’s Wide World of Sports and The Stepford Wives. Raised on farm in the Midwest, her calm, beautiful mother Carol narrowly survived a dramatic accident when she was child. There was no hint of instability in her life until one day she collapsed in the family’s apartment and spent the next year in bed. “Your mother’s illness is not physical,” Christine’s father tells her.
Craving a cure for a malady that the doctors said had no physical basis, Carol resorted to increasingly bizarre nutritional diets—from raw liver to fresh yeast—before beginning a rigid dietary regime known as “The Program.” It consisted largely of celery juice and blended salads—a forerunner of today’s smoothie. Determined to preserve the health of her family, Carol insisted that they follow The Program. Despite their constant hunger, Christine and her three younger brothers loyally followed their mother’s eating plan, even as their father’s rage grew and grew. The more their father screamed, the more their mother’s very survival seemed to depend on their total adherence to The Program.
This well-meant tyranny of the dinner table led Christine to her own cravings for family, for food, and for the words to tell the story of her hunger. Crave is the chronicle of Christine’s painful and ultimately satisfying awakening. And, just as her mother asked, it’s a good story.
This is the classic story of girl’s mom goes on a diet, she calls “The Program”. Girl’s mom forces family to go on a diet with her. And this isn’t the story of an overweight girl and her overweight family. This is a diet to avoid illness and heaviness in the body. Which means only consuming juice and blended salads–which are basically just water and veggies in the blender, from what I could tell. No drinking water during meals. No bread, no sugar, no dairy, and of course, no meat!
My mom was a health nut back in the 80’s before it was cool to be a health nut. And so much of what Christine went through was similar to the types of foods in our cupboards growing up. But Christine’s experience was so much more extreme. And I was fascinated by how the family for the most part, went along with it. I never could. I was the kid scarfing candy bars outside 7/11 praying no one would see me and report back to my mom. But whenever Christine thinks about eating something else, she feels guilty.
I loved Christine’s story. Her story made me think of what it must be like being raised by Gwyneth Paltrow. The kids seriously couldn’t eat anything. Juices, blended salads. I’m surprised no one got sick from such a limited diet. Her dad was a famous producer so there’s that Hollywood effect that says that extreme diets (even back then) are more normal if your family is famous and rich.
Crave could be a cautionary tale for some of today’s moms who think they are doing their children a great service by feeding their offspring only healthy foods and limiting whole food groups. I can say firsthand that the more my diet was restricted and foods were forbidden as a child, the more I wanted to consume them once I was able to.
For Christine, even as an adult, she lives with guilt when she eats foods her mother wouldn’t approve of, and her brothers also have similar food issues. Limiting foods at a young age may give you healthier children, but it is also very likely to ensure that your children as adults will have a complicated relationship with food.
Crave was a great story. It took me about fifty pages to really get into the book, and it wasn’t as much of a page-turner, but a very fascinating story. Because the book isn’t just about diets or “the program”, it’s about the deep bond between a mother and daughter and how we show our love through how we take care of–and feed–our families.
Whether you identify with Christine’s story or picked it up for The Glass Castle-type appeal, it’s worth checking out!
Special thanks to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for an advanced e-galley in exchange for my honest review.
It’s out November 13. Just enough time to read it and then feel guilty eating your Thanksgiving meal! Get your copy: