Trying to find an identity separate from her two older sisters, Hemingway pursued an acting career in her teens and early 20s. She gained critical praise in films like Lipstick, Manhattan, and Personal Best, but the attention at such a young age couldn’t mend her parents’ relationship. Nor could it heal her sisters—Margaux, a supermodel, committed suicide in 1996 (the fifth Hemingway, including grandfather Ernest, to do so in four generations), and Joan (nicknamed “Muffet”) has suffered from severe mental illness since childhood and is now institutionalized.
Hemingway turned her anxieties inward instead and became self-critical, obsessed with being thin and fit, and vulnerable to any fad she encountered. “I exercised too much and when it came to diet, you name it, I did it. I was vegan, macrobiotic. I ate only raw, then good fat, then no fat, fruit only, no fruit. It was crazy!” And bad for her. She was exhausted, depressed, anemic, and vitamin deficient. She also had eczema, a poorly functioning thyroid, and no period. It was time to stop the madness. Over the course of several years, with the help of a holistic doctor, she basically relearned how to eat, adopting a diet that was balanced both nutritionally and emotionally.
She also turned to yoga, which she’d first discovered as a teenager. “I had never felt so at peace,” she recalls. The more she practiced yoga, the more it helped her change how she viewed her body and the way she nourished it. “In those moments of silence and stillness, yoga taught me to listen to my body and to accept it,” she says. It also helped her make healthier choices. “Once I learned to slow down and pay attention to my breath, eating in a more balanced way started to flow naturally.”
These days, Hemingway emphasizes that everyone has to find his or her own healthy relationship with food. (Her total avoidance of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, for instance, is not for everyone, she says.) She focuses on seasonal, local choices—an ironic harkening back to her childhood in Idaho. “It’s funny that I’ve come full circle,” she says. But there are some crucial distinctions: Hemingway’s cooking (unlike her mother’s) is not part of some dysfunctional family dynamic but something she enjoys deeply, whether she’s dining with friends or her daughters. She’s no Cordon Bleu chef but an inspired and accomplished amateur—and she’s comfortable with that. “I have a few pans, a few good knives, and I tend toward simple preparation,” she explains. “I steam, I sauté. I don’t even season too much because I don’t want to disguise the flavor of fresh ingredients.” That cooking philosophy is reflected in Mariel’s Kitchen, a book of tips for a satisfying life and simple, seasonal dishes. She hopes to inspire people to think of cooking as an artistic, colorful adventure, not a dreaded obligation. “For me, creating food is a divine process and a profound way to express who we are.”
Photograph from Mariel's Kitchen: Simple Ingredients for a Delicious and Satisfying Life, courtesy of Harpercollins