Author Karen Babine reflects on cooking and cancer


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Bookends and Beginnings, 1712 Sherman Ave. The bookstore hosted Karen Babine to discuss her book “All the Wild Hungers: A Season of Cooking and Cancer.”

Maddy Daum, Assistant City Editor

In her book “All the Wild Hungers: A Season of Cooking and Cancer,” Karen Babine intertwined food metaphors and stories about her mother’s cancer. The author answered questions and discussed her new essay collection at Bookends & Beginnings on Friday night.

Babine read chapters from her essay collection to an intimate audience at the bookstore as part of a book tour.

Babine said she usually writes a lot about nature, but she applied her connection with place and setting to a newfound love for cooking in the series of essays.

After Babine’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, the author said she began to cook for the rest of her family. She researched what she could feed her mother and picked up cookbooks from the different places she traveled.

“I would just feed her anything she would eat, because the chemo was so bad that we had about 24 hours before she would crash for at least about three days,” Babine said.

At doctor’s appointments, Babine said she noticed the doctor constantly used food metaphors to describe the size of the tumor and how it was growing. Babine said she was getting “really irritated” with the metaphors and started to write about her experience with her mother’s cancer, which turned into the book.

The book is broken up into short four to five page chapters, which Babine said came out of her editing process. English instructor at McHenry County College Lisa Crizer said she read the book and drove an hour and a half to listen to the author because of the book’s poetic language.

“I really love the way that (the book is) structured, the short little pieces that kind of make up the whole, and it felt like I kept moving through the whole thing,” Crizer said. “I think that when she described it as prose poetry, that’s very accurate.”

Babine drew similarities between the food language that doctors used to describe her mother’s tumor and her sister’s pregnancy and combined her newfound cooking interest with the prevalence food has in her life.

Nina Barrett (Medill ’87), the owner of Bookends & Beginnings, said “All the Wild Hungers” is a “beautiful piece of writing” that explores how food grounds us during uncertain times. Barrett said she reads a lot of food writing, but this book was especially outstanding.

“I found this (essay collection) really unique in the kinds of connections it makes between what food means to us, what it does in our bodies and how it connects us and the images of growth, which are not always positive,” Barrett said. “It makes a lot of connections in really ingenious creative ways that I haven’t seen before.”

Babine said she didn’t try to make her book into a story, as there is nothing unique to her about her mother getting cancer. She said the cancer alone was too universal for her to write about, which caused her to focus on the ideas behind the narrative.

“It was really a goal to make (the book) something universal enough so that someone who has experience with this could find a toehold in this,” Babine said. “There was enough in there, both brain and heart, to make it go.”

Email: [email protected]

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Karen Babine taught fourth grade. She was not a fourth grade teacher. The Daily regrets the error.