Some food bloggers want a code of ethics. But the proposals would put most British newspaper food writers out of businessby Alex Renton / June 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
Maltese cuisine and press junkets
A few months ago, the Maltese tourist board offered to fly me and a gaggle of other hacks to the island to explore Maltese cuisine. This sounded like a joke, so I went—and it was. Not that Malta doesn’t have a cuisine: it does. But it’s the cuisine of a middle-rank Eastbourne hotel in the 1970s. That’s Malta, a dusty south coast resort for the elderly of England that happens to be a few miles from north Africa.
On the first evening the staff of the tourist board took us to watch a noted Maltese chef cook and serve the favourites of the contemporary Maltese kitchen. The first course was minestrone and the second a Mrs Beeton staple, stewed beef olives. The beef was the best, the chef told me: imported from New Zealand.
This is what you get if you had the British as your colonial power—great bureaucrats, but no croissants. And lots of margarine. The Maltese import most of their vegetables from Italy and have only just started growing olives again. Their diet has made them the unhealthiest and fattest people in southern Europe, I was told. I’m not surprised, since the non-English dish of which they are proudest is prinjolata, a great pile of sugar, flour, chocolate and butter festooned with pine nuts and artificially coloured fruit peel. It was awfully popular: we called it the Dom Mintoff, after the former prime minister of Malta.
I feel a little guilty writing this: there is a convention with these trips that you’re not rude about them, which journalists usually observe until they are rich enough to afford their own holidays. The corruption of lifestyle journalism—especially in the travel sections—is so ancient and universal that it goes without questioning in the business, and the public don’t seem to care. When I started work at the Independent 20 years ago there was a strict no-freebies rule, but it soon disappeared along with other good ideas of the paper’s early days, such as the notion of writing as little as possible about the royal family.
Now that many newspapers have farmed out the soft end of their product to contract publishing, there seem to be no rules at all. A while ago the company behind the Sunday Times’s travel supplements asked me to go to Louisiana and write about the restaurants—they would pay me, but…