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Friday, 31 October 2014

The Camino Made Me Eat That...

Written by Michelle Smith
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Hi, my name is Michelle and I am a recovering food snob.  I discovered this while walking 800 km across Spain, on the Camino de Santiago.  I live in Vancouver, BC and I participate in the Dietary Restricting Movement of the 21st century.   Many of the the following words or phrases have passed through my mind or left my mouth at some point in the last few years:

•I don't understand how people can eat (enter food item here)!

•I don't drink pop.

•Excuse me, do you have almond milk?

•Peanuts are terrible for you, you should eat almonds instead.

•Is that organic?

•Does it have wheat in it?

•Is there sugar in that?

•Gross. You couldn't pay me to put that in my body.

•I judge people standing in line at McDonalds.

•I don't eat (enter food here) or (food) or (food)...

•Plus many more...

It has come to my attention that part of my Camino is about my relationship to food.

As an athlete, the food that I put into my body is in direct relationship to how well my machine performs. It's fuel. If you put in junk, you get junk. If you put in Premium, you a high performance, well oiled machine. It is really very simple, one would think.  It has occurred to me on several occasions, not just this one on the Camino, that some thing in the Vancouver air, makes it’s residents high maintenance, presumptuous, food snobs.  We take for granted our access to local, organic, farm fresh and sustainable food. Being food conscious is practically mandatory, especially within my community of professional performers.

Finding sugar-free desserts made from organic ingredients is a must. Dairy is simply out of the question. And eww, do you know where that meat comes from?! Gross.  Seriously, we are snobs! Gluten free, sugar free, meat free, dairy free...we are nuts! All of us! You know who you are! Of course, for some it is a requirement but for most of us, it's a lifestyle choice.

I hang my head in shame.

I bring this up because I had a very long walk today that consisted of an opening stretch of 13km with no village or stop. This should take around 3 hours so the question becomes: what do I eat to sustain me walking that long with no break? Let me tell you how it works on the Camino...

You eat what ever you can find!


Ah, pilgrim life!  Food itself isn't hard to come by. Actually, eating is quite easy.  Eating 'healthy' is not!  Vegetables are scarce and usually expensive. Fruit is fairly available but not always ripe.  Bread is abundant and very light. So are cookies.  Then comes the question of weight. Carrying food around all day is heavy on your back when every pound counts...and believe me, it does!  So, you judge your food options by weight, how well it packs and the distance between villages.  Supermarkets are also very few and far between. Small villages often only have very basic convenience stores.

Did I mention that most of us leave before 7 am? Not a whole lot open then.

What to do? What to do?

Some towns will have at least one cafe that is open at 6 am. They will most likely offer a 'desayuno' for a few euros which consist of a piece of toast, jam and a coffee.  I don't know about you but for me, a piece of toast doesn't do it. I am starving 20 minutes later, guaranteed.  Sometimes you get lucky and they have tortilla espana, which are a cross between an omelette and a quiche. Great breakfast food but in high demand, they go quickly.  More often than not though, there will be nothing open at 6:30 am. Usually, in this case the albergue (pilgrim hostels) will provide you a 'breakfast' or at least direct you to a vending machine.

Instant coffee.


Or cookies.

For breakfast.

No joke.

I cannot count how many albergue breakfasts I have consumed that have consisted of digestive cookies and instant coffee.  Now this is where that Vancouver snob tries to poke her snobby head back in.  Yes, that's a pretty awful breakfast, but it's the food that has been provided.  Eat it!  


The nice people who care for pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago are more than happy to provide food for us. I am sure that when you are trying to feed hundreds of hungry pilgrims, doing so cost effectively is a major concern. Bread is the cheapest thing you can buy here and digestive cookies, apparently.

The food I carry with me is the lightest I can find. Usually bread or crackers, some sliced ham and cheese. One piece of fruit, if I am lucky. I tried to carry around cucumber and canned tuna but it got heavy real fast.  When there is a supermarket though, it's veggie binge city!!! The selection isn't great but they usually have pre-cooked beets, salad mix and cucumbers. Done, that’s good enough for me!!

What I have learned from this experience is that judging people based on their food choices is unfair and unnecessary. Sometimes, there are simply no other options and you are in no place to refuse anything that is put in front of you. Walking across Spain, spending as little money as possible to see this has certainly put that into perspective. I think back to my Vancouver diet and I am amazed that I am even lucky enough to live in a city that has so much good food readily available. There are not many places on the planet that allow for such lavish eating habits. I count myself grateful.  And if someone has the charity and compassion to feed you, you eat it. You don't complain about it or decline. They are offering you a gift and your gift back to them is to receive it. Plain and simple.

So when all you can get is cookies for breakfast, you eat them and be happy you got to eat at all!


All that being said, I love a food adventure, so bring it on!  Many Vancouverites would be horrified to hear of the questionable things I have eaten here. Horrified.

Top 5:

1. 'Albino' bread...highly refined pre-sliced, white 'bread.' The crust was even white. Provided as part of my breakfast at an albergue in Itero de la Vega.


2. Black Pudding...cooked blood. I actually enjoyed this. Santo Domingo.

3. Vending machine breakfast cakes. It was either that or olive oil and beer. Happened on more than one occasion.

4. Pork crackling...still had hair on it. Tasty. Viana.

5. The infamous processed pink chicken burger...I wanted a burger. It was bright pink...processed florescent pink...I am embarrassed to say I actually ate it. Burgos.

Things I have ate/drank that have been 'against the rules' previously:

•Cookies...all shapes and sizes.

•Croissants...homemade usually. I have really missed eating croissants.


•Pain du chocolat...homemade, I will take 2, por favor!

•Candy...yup. I went there.

•Coke...I lent someone 10 euros, they paid me back and added a can of coke in there for good measure. It was a nice gesture and I couldn't remember the last time I had had a Coke. A nice nostalgic drink but I doubt I will have another.

• much bread.

•Beer...I was curious.

•Ice cream...why not?

•Pasta...I recently had pasta made by a real Italian. Hands down, the best pasta I have ever eaten. So simple yet so good.

Things I am jonsing for constantly:


Like everything thing I have learned on the Camino, this revelation will be an on going journey. I still have twinges of guilt and anxiety over weight gain and self image but honestly, let's be real here...

I am walking 20-30 km a day and it's the Camino. Who cares?!

I don’t.


©Michelle Smith  




Last modified on Friday, 31 October 2014