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In her self-destructive family, the actress used food to revitalize her mind, body, and soul
In my family's house, outside the town of Ketchum, Idaho, life was lived at pendulum extremes—either chilly silence or flaming arguments, often occurring back-to-back. As a son of Ernest Hemingway, my father had inherited a complicated burden: the genetic tendencies toward addiction and overconsumption; the pain of abandonment caused by the way his father lived and, most tragically, the way he died; and the self-doubt that comes with being the child of a legend, fearing that nothing he could do in his life would ever match what his parent achieved. My mother was very beautiful, yet painfully bitter. Her first husband had died in World War II, and after she married my father she resented him for not being the man to whom she'd lost her heart. The two of them fought every day.
Food was the one constant. In fact, it was the way we felt and expressed love. We all thought of food all the time. While eating, we were already thinking of the next meal. There was the obsessive planning of culinary adventures. And nearly every night we had "wine time" at six o'clock. With one glass of wine everything was happy and smiley, but with each successive glass, everyone got more tense. By the fourth glass, no one was speaking unless they were yelling. Then we headed to the TV room because the dinner table was just too uncomfortable a place to eat. We ate incredibly well, but we ate in front of the TV.
The immensity of my grandfather's myth meant everyone in town knew our business. And when my middle sister, Margaux, became one of the first true supermodels in the late '70s, the drama increased exponentially.
According to what I saw all around me as a child, being an adult meant riding a roller coaster of extreme highs and devastating lows that inevitably led to sickness, craziness, or self-destruction. To ensure against ever becoming sick, fat, or insane myself, I set about undoing the extremism I'd inherited from my family—the running-with-the-bulls approach to life that was deeply encoded into the Hemingway DNA and that I sensed nipping at my own heels.
When I left home at 16, food became both a source of comfort and a source of control. Controlling what I put into my body seemed the best way to avert the possibility of falling apart. And so I tried every approach to eating that exists. I have been macrobiotic, vegetarian, vegan, no fat, all fat, no protein, and high protein. One year I even ate nothing but fruit and organic coffee—and, yes, I was wired. This sometimes painful experimentation simply didn't work for me. Years of rigid control over what I would and would not eat were their own form of extremism. And so, after many years and failures, I tried a new direction.
I began examining my past, trying to recall the moments when I felt most in balance. The answer soon became obvious: summer. During the summer, my father caught local trout and we ate salads from our garden. Each summer, I traveled to Oregon to stay with my godmother, who had a plethora of fruit trees, grew every kind of vegetable, and raised chickens and goats, from which we had fresh eggs and milk. Recalling these memories brought me to a startling revelation: real food straight from the source is not only good for you; it also makes you feel good.
Now I eat what is in season, what is vibrant in color, and what is organic. When I eat this way, I feel only ease, energy, and joy. And I have discovered that eating simple food made from simple ingredients is the truest way to love yourself and those around you.
Visit AARP Magazine for Mariel Hemingway’s Dinner Menu Recipes • Zucchini Linguini with Chicken • Salmon with Minty Mango Salsa • Ricotta "No Bread" Pudding with Blueberries • Tomato, Tarragon, and Mostly Egg White Frittata