On Cravings

Mary Wellesley

The first uses of the verb crave in English are in legal and quasi-legal contexts – to crave was to demand a thing, or to issue a summons, requiring the presence of a person at a tribunal. Pregnancy cravings are a summons issued by the mind. Expecting my second child, I find myself thinking, over the course of an hour’s car journey, about the salty tang of tuna and capers, or the crunch of toast laden with a buttered ooze of marmite, topped with a slice of cucumber. As though rolling a boiled sweet around in my mouth, I roll imagined tastes around, sampling them from every angle, first bite, first chew, first swallow.

During the long weeks of morning sickness, when a lot of food was unthinkable and even the smell of an onion or garlic being cooked was enough to make me leave the house, I took an odd pleasure in reading recipes. Somehow the description and promise of food offered solace. Garlic – which I usually adore – was sanitised, stripped of its smell, and could exist in an ordered place in my mind, as a memory not a nauseating reality. There was a disconnection between my imagined and physiological experience of food. Cravings arrive like a legal summons and hover over you until satisfied, but the pleasure of satisfaction is momentary, at odds with the hours-long fixation that has demanded it.

My cravings are comparatively bland. The internet is awash with stories of women longing for wall plaster, soil, chalk, coal, sponges. Some have a desire to eat meat with their hands. Cravings are, more often than not, private – a need for food, or non-food, that is incomprehensible to others. And satisfying them is rarely a social activity. But strictly speaking it isn’t solitary either. A foetus’s taste buds start to develop at around eight weeks and are activated at thirty. Research shows that maternal food choices in pregnancy may shape a child’s taste preferences. Time will tell whether my son will also one day love kimchi with eggs for breakfast.