A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Food And Love

The subject of food's a strange and fascinating one, isn't it? I've been occupied with it lately while experimenting with various different recipes at home. And thoughts of food loomed large on my recent Camino trip. Because the weather was challenging, and because I was on my own much of the time, I used food and drink as things to look forward to each evening: a reward for my efforts, a kind of comfort blanket. On my other Caminos I've always lost weight - half a stone or more. But not on this one.

There are two relentless, unignorable animal hungers in our lives, and one of them's to have our stomachs filled. (The other one is the irrepressible, primeval desire - to go ballroom dancing! I joke, of course...)

Food can be a joyous thing. But it's not actually about fancy restaurants, complicated recipes, complex, diverse or expensive ingredients, culinary knowledge, technique and skill, dinner party one-upmanship, celebrity chefs in hot competition with each other. No, it's not about these things at all.

Occasionally I've eaten in a posh restaurant or two - when I worked in publishing - and sometimes they're good, but often they can be disappointing. If I was paying for myself, I'd rather spend the money elsewhere. Also, it can sometimes seem rather obscene to be sitting there debating whether you want the pan-fried pigeon or the pancetta-wrapped tuna - when much of the world is struggling to survive on seeds and roots.

No, at heart, mealtimes aren't really about food, are they? Food's the peg to hang them on - but really they're much more about sharing, companionship and conversation. They're certainly not about competition.

The value of food is nothing to do with money. It's nothing to do with the food's scarcity, or complexity, or diversity, or subtlety. It's simply to do with the love that's been put into preparing it. And that's all. Really it is.

A few weeks ago, in the albergue at Tábara, a Spanish pilgrim called Agustin I'd met insisted on making us both a meal. We shopped for the food together. It was fun. Later he fried, in very hot oil, chunks of chorizo and salted belly pork, then added a tomate frito sauce from a carton (Why can't we get this in the UK? Perhaps we can and I just haven't noticed). We accompanied it with heaps of al dente spaghetti and a bottle of red wine. And it was one the best meals I've ever had in my life.

Love and companionship...


verena said...

Love and companionship...

Rachel Fox said...

I have mixed feelings on this topic. I love food, love eating and don't even mind cooking (though I cook for a mixed bunch with different tastes so it can be hard work) but I get bored (really bored!) with some of the current ways of talking about food (the TV programmes etc.). I have friends who could talk about food forever but (much as I might love them in other ways) I could easily beat them to death with a rolling pin once they start warbling on about food. It brings out the beast in me!
Just so you know.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

The best meals do revolve around the setting and companionship, perhaps the season, and often the events leading up to actual meal itself. I do, however, think a portion of what makes for a memorable meal comes down to the food or dish or preparation. That meal you shared with your pilgrim friend Agustin—that incorporated the shared experience of the trail, weather, conditions, shopping together, being present during the cooking, the eating and companionship. But also the actual food. It wouldn't have been quite so memorable if it had been takeout fish & chips; so the food itself played some fairly important part. Yet, it took the whole to make the meal unforgettable.

Still, I've never had a truly memorable meal on my own; eating alone is just…eating.

Rebrites@yahoo.com said...

love, companionship, exhaustion, fresh air... and pork fat.

Tramp said...

I spend some of my time teaching English as a foreign language. I have to explain carefully the concept of a meal as an event. In most Czech-English dictionaries the words "food" and "meal" are listed together as if they were totally interchangable. "Meal" originated as the product of a mill, e.g. oatmeal, cornmeal but I don't know when and how it started to used to describe an event.
And how about the way we use the word "drink"?

Rebecca said...

A shared meal is especially enjoyable if it was prepared together.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think I agree with just about everything everyone's commented here!