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Grateful for small mercies – Kristina Chetcuti

There is this video clip doing the rounds on Whatsapp, of a One TV quiz in which a phone-in viewer is told that she can win a prize if she guesses a very straightforward, elementary question.

“Okay,” goes the presenter, “all you have to do is tell me what’s the name of the prime minister’s wife.” The phone-in viewer hums and haws: “Umm, emm, bħalissa… bħalissa… x’jisimha?” Long pause, then: “Hey! vat! Michelle!”

At that, the presenter’s foundation turns three shades paler and the other hosts next to him start tittering awkwardly. For one long second, the air in the One studio can be cut with a knife. Then the presenter somehow recomposes himself, gulps, straightens his jacket, arranges his face into a cheerful grin and tries to save the day. “Ahem, hehe, okay mela, let me tell you what, let’s start with this: who’s our prime minister at the moment?”

The video clip that went viral last weekend.

The clip ends there, so I don’t know if in the end the phone-in viewer gets her prize. However, I think her clueless reaction from her is definitely a shift in the right direction. It means that Lydia Abela, unlike her predecessor, is doing her non-job as prime minister’s spouse properly.

Unlike, say the United States, in Malta, the prime minister’s spouse does not have a constitutional role. A spouse here is just a personal supporting act. The role of the First Lady or First Gentleman is reserved to the presidential office and even that is purely symbolic.

A prime minister’s spouse, therefore, has no place holding press conferences or representing the government on official business. But we might be forgiven for forgetting that because, from 2013 to 2019, during the Muscat legislatures, that is what we were exposed to on a daily basis.

No wonder the poor phone-in lady cried “Michelle!” – all that brainwashing still has not faded away. It was a constant barrage of cult aggrandisement, with daily footage of the prime minister’s wife in various stances on the beaches, on the landing grounds and on the streets and in the fields (of Villa Francia).

Lydia Abela, thankfully, so far, at least, does not impose herself onto the nation. Her de ella flaunting the fact that she is the very spouse of the prime minister is not the mission of her life de ella. And that is as it should be.

Yes, she featured on election billboards next to her husband but in a girl-next-door kind of way, not in the manner of Eva Peron. And, yes, there’s a plaque of their daughter’s baptism stuck to the San Anton presidential palace for all the public to gawp at but let’s give her the benefit of the doubt for that one and point our fingers at her father-in-law, who had thrown away the presidential protocol book when president.

What we need is a food revolution. And we don’t even need to take to the streets for that, all we need is… cooking lessons– Kristina Chetcuti

We should, therefore, all sigh with relief that the phone-in lady failed to guess the question put to her. There’s a semblance of normality in it. This is not me being positive, this is me being grateful for small mercies. And this is me fervently hoping that, now, Super One won’t start a cheerleading campaign indoctrinating viewers that “LYDIA is her name-o”. Please, just don’t.

cooking lessons

A short while ago, at a teachers’ conference in the UK, delegates did not ask for more books, like in the previous years, but for bigger classroom chairs to accommodate their ever-larger pupils.

I very much fear that this will soon be the case here too. This week, Maltese men topped the WHO report list for the most obese from 52 countries in Europe. Our young boys clinched the title too: half of our 11-year-olds and 15-year-olds are overweight, more so than in any other European country.

Up till four decades ago, obese people were quite rare. Now it’s the norm and it’s mostly coming (though not always) from our sedentary lifestyles, from our guzzling of soft drinks and from eating rubbish.

Obesity is the cause of innumerable health complications and this is obviously costing our health system a lot of money. It’s a pandemic, but a silent one; we don’t have Charmaine Gauci giving us daily figures and telling us that we have won the war and so on. This week, she made some noises about campaigning for some more awareness on excessive weight. Awareness of what exactly? To use the Grillioso? To buy Coke Zero? Or to buy that awful margarine instead of butter?

Forget the fricking awareness, what we need is a food revolution. And we don’t even need to take to the streets for that, all we need is… cooking lessons. Our grandparents used to eat fresh vegetables every day and meat and fish twice a week. But we forgot all that. Now we eat meat every day and the only popular vegetables are potatoes (fried). In two generations, we forgot how to cook frugal but really nutritious food.

So, how about, for once we use taxpayers’ money on something that we taxpayers will actually benefit from? How about we seek the advice of national treasure Nicole Pisani? The Żebbuġian based in London has just been named as one of Britain’s 50 most inspirational individuals for providing vulnerable children and their families with healthy meals during the pandemic.

From chef de cuisine at Ottolenghi’s in Soho, she went on to co-found Chefs in School, a charity thanks to which top restaurant chefs teach children at schools how to cook, how not to waste and how to realize that takeaways are expensive when you compare them to cooking.

This is what we need, across all ages not just children; for people who know how to cook rarely eat rubbish. If we do this, in the coming two generations, obesity will be a fluke of the past.

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