Early in the pages of Eat, Pray, Love, on her way to India, author Elizabeth Gilbert drops an ominous omen: she recounts a Gandhi joke.
Dining on the intestines of a newborn lamb she says she observed to her companion that Gandhi “never ate lamb intestines in his life.”
“But vegetarians can eat this,” responds Luca. “Intestines aren’t even meat, Liz. They’re shit.” Ha Ha!
A few pages later, buying a fur hat, Gilbert sees humor in the disappointing veal she recently ate for dinner. “Are these called Mrs. Paul’s Veal Sticks” she and a friend chortle.
Visitors to Gilbert’s web site used to be greeted by an image of a little girl covered with flies in keeping with Gilbert’s spiritual quest and what she calls her “peace summit.”
But nowhere on the site will visitors see the sequestration of the newborn veal calf– or harvesting of “intestines of a newborn lamb”–behind the meals she extols.
Writing a book about looking for God–and finding him and having him talk directly to you!–always puts someone at risk of hubris. Not only do you violate the axiom “those who speak don’t know; those who know don’t speak,” you probably violate the axiom, “don’t think less of yourself; think of yourself less.”
Especially because when God “tells” you to go back to bed as he does to Gilbert twice in Eat, Pray, Love, you’re one step away of saying he found you a parking space or spared your bingo game rain.
Critics have assailed Gilbert’s Italy/India/Indonesia travelogue as a rich woman’s sojourn. It’s not too hard to find God, they say, biking on the beach at sunset on the island of Bali on a big book advance.
But it isn’t Gilbert’s upper middle class hauteur in which scrubbing floors and mosquito bites are the Long Night Of The Soul that makes Eat, Pray, Love a spiritual blasphemy.
It isn’t her aren’t-I-complex-and-interesting! disquisitions that blot almost every page like this passage where she ponders the source of her despair:
“Was it psychological. (Mom and Dad’s fault?) Was it temporal, a “bad time” in my life? (When the divorce ends, will the depression end with it?) Was it genetic? (Melancholy, called by many names, has run through my family for generations, along with its sad bride, Alcoholism.) Was it cultural? (Is this just the fallout of a postfeminist American career girl trying to find balance in an increasingly stressful and alienating urban world?) Was it astrological? (Am I so sad because I’m a think-skinned Cancer whose major signs are all ruled by unstable Gemini?) Was it artistic? (Don’t creative people always suffer from depression because we’re so supersensitive and special?) Was it evolutionary? (Do I carry in me the residual panic that comes after millennia of my species’ attempting to survive a brutal world?) Was it karmic? (Are all these spasms of grief just the consequences of bad behavior in previous lifetimes, the last obstacles before liberation?) Was it hormonal? Dietary? Philosophical? Seasonal? Environmental? Was I tapping into a universal yearning for God? Did I have a chemical imbalance? Or did I just need to get laid? “
No, what makes Eat, Pray, Love a spiritual blasphemy is the progression of veal, pork, rabbits, turkeys, lambs, sausages, sardines, octopuses, oxtails and newborns’ intestines that adorn Gilbert’s spiritual plate.
Gilbert knows all about Yoga, mantras, Brahmans, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, the Hopi Indians and Apollonius of Tyana; she’s down with St. Theresa, St. Francis, the Kabbalah and Sufism.
But she was absent the day they taught Ahimsa–the doctrine of refraining from causing pain, injury or violence to any living thing. The doctrine that guides most spiritual leaders–and spiritual paths.
It’s not like Gilbert didn’t think about it. A friend told her eating meat amounted to “eating the fear of the animal at the moment of its death”–a fact confirmed by “red bird” chickens and “PSE pork” (Pale, Soft, and Exudative) which result from the animal facing slaughter terror.
It’s just that she decided it was so much gobbledygook–like wearing “orange colored panties, to rebalance my sexual charkas.”
Besides, says Gilbert after leaving the meat-free ashram in India and digging into some pork, “I could never be a vegetarian, not with food like this in the world,” throwing out compassion and self-denial–the basis of spiritual observance–in one fell swoop.
“There is no such thing in this universe as hell, except maybe in our own terrified minds,” she gushes at the end of Eat, Pray, Love, all warm and fuzzy with God, tucking into her veal.
MARTHA ROSENBERG can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org