Feeding the Body and Soul
by Sofia Soto Sugar
In Ryan Murphy’s 2010 film, based on a book of the same name by Elizabeth Gilbert, writer Liz (Julia Roberts) uses food as part of her journey. Finding herself divorced and completely lost, she comes to terms with her mid-life crisis of sorts and embarks on a worldwide trip to find herself through food, spirituality, and love. The heavy emphasis on food, eating, and feeding oneself in this film emphasizes the role of food in healing. But it is just that: a role. This film makes it clear that food is not the only component of healing, nor the most important part, but a component that cannot be missed.
The story is broken up into 4 segments: an introductory part about her life in New York City, the “Eat” chapter in Italy, the “Pray” chapter in India, and the “Love” chapter in Bali. This film, it is important to note, does not display food and eating in any part other than the scenes in Italy, except for a brief cooking scene in Bali – even then, the characters are not shown eating the food made. This compartmentalization functions not to diminish the importance of food, but to highlight it through a specific chapter of her life.
Amidst all her loss, Liz talks to Delia (Viola Davis) about how she no longer has an appetite for food or for life, she no longer takes the time to marvel. After a brief but passionate relationship with a young actor (James Franco), she chooses to go to Italy because she wants an experience that will indulge all of her senses, to rekindle her appetite. Her newfound relationship with food allows her to relearn who she is, what she is composed of, and how to best take care of herself. This comes in the form of physical feeding, most notably in the pasta scene linked here, where Liz indulges in the most comforting and filling foods in a way that pleases all her senses without really being gluttonous. Likewise, she feeds her well-being by learning to appreciate herself and her body image again. In the first figure, Liz is telling her friend Sofi (Tuva Novotny) to enjoy the food without worrying about weight while eating a world-renowned pizza in Napoli.
Liz’s experiences eating in Italy made her comfortable with herself again at a time when she was so low and lost, and gave her a new support system in the friends that she made there. In Figure 2, Liz enjoys a full meal with the family she has made for herself, the people that taught her how to speak Italian and navigate the new country and culture. Just as “Eat” is only a chapter in Liz’s journey, food can serve as a part of the healing and nourishing process but not without the help of other things. Food alone cannot heal, but when combined with a certain level of spirituality (not always religious) and love (for others, for oneself, and acceptance of it), it can truly leave you full.