Food makes up the majority of significant events in life, from births to wedding celebrations, to religious feasts and funerals. Although many times it is taken for granted, food carries a symbolic meaning in our life. This symbolism can be seen in day-to-day events, such as random or unexpected visits from a friend or technician at home, who cannot be left without a snack.
National cuisine is an important element of culture. In the Mediterranean region, including the Maltese Islands, as well as everywhere else in the world, culture makes up particular beliefs, historical traditions and customs, which vary in different countries and societies. The way the various communities cook, eat and perceive food is not only part, but also a strong representation of culture. The reason for this is that traditional meals are supported for centuries and passed on to new generations, becoming part and parcel of societal identity. However, many times, traditional food may not be as healthy as it seems. Through interviews with several young female students at the University of Malta, this article aims to explore what Maltese people think about their cuisine, and whether they think food has any particular purpose in their lives.
On their request, the identity of the interviewed students will remain anonymous. According to them, Maltese food is appetising, full of flavour, but at the same time unhealthy, due to the amount of oil it often contains. For instance, the girls consider ‘pastizzi’ – a favourite delicacy – to be a “guilty pleasure” due to the amount of calories in them. The participants appeared to be concerned with healthy eating and argued that the main reason fast food is so popular with the young generation is because it is easily available and outlets are within a short distance. In Malta, one of the world’s smallest and most overpopulated countries, pizza places, burger joints and other fast food outlets are located in almost every corner, unlike organic or natural food markets.
Since the island is a Mediterranean country close to Italy, Maltese cuisine could not escape the influence of Italian food. Many restaurants on the island prepare traditional Italian cuisine. Thus, as the students say, Italian food is extremely embedded in the Maltese culture that it has almost become Malta’s national cuisine.
The students were asked whether they preferred to eat at home or in restaurants and other food outlets. One of them commented that there is no difference between the two. But for the others, eating at home was a better choice. This is because you can never be totally sure as to how fresh the food is when you eat out, you don’t know how it has been prepared and what it contains. Therefore, eating at home could be safer and healthier. Furthermore, while some students believe in diets; others have no faith in them. According to young females, although a diet does work sometimes, most of the time, it is extremely unhealthy and thus, not worth it.
Although Mediterranean cuisine is widely known for its colour, health and nourishment, recent studies show that the Maltese population has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world. The students were also convinced that genetics play a significant role in causing obesity which is so prevalent in the Maltese Islands. Could it also be that the geographical nature of the island, with its valleys, hills and high winds, makes it extremely hard to cycle between and around the different towns? It’s a known fact that most people use cars for the most insignificant of journeys, for instance going to buy groceries.
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