Hunger takes on new meaning in O’Brien’s memoir about love, longing, and an ever growling stomach.
Many people have written about eating disorders, but a parent-inflicted eating regime is less-trod territory. In her debut memoir, the author tackles the uncomfortable truth of her mother’s obsession with healthy food. Year’s before paleo, detox, and Atkins would become common terms, O’Brien’s mother was on a mission to heal her body through her diet. But eating healthy wasn’t enough. The author’s mother forced “The Program” on her four children and TV-executive husband as well. That meant “blended salads,” juices, steamed vegetables, and rice three meals per day, with no meat and no cheating. “Drink your blended salad before it oxidizes,” O’Brien’s mother would encourage her children. Of course, all of this was also served with a heaping side of guilt, and the residual self-reproach left a bad taste in the author’s mouth for years. It wasn’t until college that O’Brien allowed herself a few crumbs of a brownie. “The brownies are gone and I’m suddenly left with the consequences of what I’ve done,” she writes. “What was I thinking? White flour and egg whites take B vitamins from the body. Chocolate never leaves our system. I feel seared with sadness….I can no longer consider myself pure.” But bad habits die hard, and even after allowing meat and sugar into her diet, O’Brien struggled with eating shame. Not surprisingly, the aftermath of a childhood deprived of sweets and meats also took its toll on her siblings, although each coped and recovered in his or her own way. Ultimately, this story isn’t just about food; it’s about the mother-daughter bond and how the desire to please one’s parents may never go away. O’Brien ably articulates this challenging relationship all children and parents struggle with, be it through food, favoritism, or failure to love.
A book that makes the topic of hunger entirely satisfying.