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...