Loud budgeting

▪️ Loud budgeting ▪️ Science? I’m not a nerd ▪️ Polenta’s secrets

At the end of 2023, comedian and writer Lukas Battle took to Tik Tok to bring the term “loud budgeting” to the world.  “Loud budgeting is a new concept I am announcing for 2024; it’s the opposite of quiet luxury,” he said in the post. “If your friend texts you ‘I want to hang out’, you say ‘I don’t want to spend gas money to come see you and listen to you talk about your ex for three hours.’”

It was a joke, but it soon took off, and a new financial trend was born. His TikTok post has now been viewed more than 1.5 million times, with other users embracing the new term.

Battle told CNN that loud budgeting is “new terminology for people to use when they don’t want to spend money. [It’s a] term people can use that doesn’t make talking about money awkward.”  How does it work?  It means not going on the weekend boys’ trip to Gozo, but paying down on the laptop you bought on hire purchase.  Or choosing not to join friends for an expensive dinner but inviting them over for a drink beforehand. All you have to say is “I’m loud budgeting”.

In a world where luxury and opulence are constantly on display   ̶   and unattainable for most people   ̶   “loud budgeting” makes being on a budget cool.  It’s the inverse of “quiet luxury”.

“It definitely started as a joke,” Battle said of his now-viral trend. “But then, when I kind of saw the response it was getting, I kind of got behind my own idea more. Having financial autonomy and being confident and kind of being transparent about your money situation can be just as cool as flexing it and trying to buy all these expensive items.”

Gen Z and Millennials — social media’s most active users — have less personal wealth than other generations.  They feel the biggest burden of high inflation and expensive housing.   Yet, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is no longer the Joneses but keeping up with the likes of Olajide Olatunji (KSI) and Charli D’Amelio.

Gen Z and Millennials spend hours scrolling on social media, often through aspirational content. They also are more likely than any other generation to buy brands and products from targeted ads on those platforms.  However, they are also very lacking in financial literacy.

The rise of FinTok could help shine a light on the lack of financial literacy in younger generations but also requires that they learn to cross-reference any financial information given on social media with another reputable source.  More attention should be given to personal finance when young people are in education.

Science? I’m not a nerd

The Health Ministry, working with both the EU and the WHO, now wants evidence-based research to identify factors that impact enrolment and the pursuit of careers in healthcare. The study will explore youths’ attitudes and perceptions towards healthcare education programmes and careers related to healthcare, as well as identify the factors that encourage or discourage them from pursuing healthcare careers.

Not before time, considering the large cohort of Asian nursing staff among the 10,500 healthcare professionals employed by the Government.  It has been evident for some time that this is not sufficient to cater for the current population, let alone for 800,000 and a second hospital.

Evidence-based science is always welcome, but it is not only the Health Ministry that should be worried about lack of interest in science.  It pervades the whole population and explains why there is so much stupidity and why people get scientific facts from the unreliable social media.

Photo: Miriam Alonso

European statistics (OECD chart) show that Malta is one of only four countries below the mean score of achievement in science studies in schools, measured by quality and inclusion dimensions.  Not only   ̶   there is a high spread in the results, meaning that scores are skewed towards very high or very low scores.  Most other states are in the right hand bottom quadrant of the chart, showing high scores and low spread.

The consequences of the low regard for science in Malta has multi-fold repercussions.  For example, a Eurobarometer survey shows that a staggering 38% of the Maltese believe that “the cure for cancer exists but is hidden from the public by commercial interests”   ̶   the tenth most likely among all 27 states to believe this conspiracy theory.  The survey also found that 36% believe the far-out conspiracy theory that viruses are being produced in government laboratories, purposely to control the freedom of citizens   ̶   in contrast, only 4% of Swedes believe these bogus claims.

In a quiz about scientific literacy, where respondents were asked to answer 11 questions, only 14% of Maltese respondents gave more than eight correct answers. That put Malta in 19th place among EU countries.  Luxembourg, Belgium, and Sweden topped the charts with more than 44% of their citizens giving more than 8 correct answers.

More evidence about our scientific ignorance:  the percentage of low-achieving 15- year-olds in science in our schools in 2021 was 30.3% versus 24.2% in the EU.  In Finland, which I often quote for the benefit of the dinosaurs in the Education Ministry, it was 18%.

According to a Health Ministry spokesperson, “the study’s findings can inform the development of policies and programmes aimed at encouraging more youths to pursue healthcare careers and addressing any barriers or misconceptions that may exist.”  Fine, but have they cared to read the EU Commission’s Eurydice report   ̶  ‘Increasing achievement and motivation in mathematics and science learning in schools’  ̶   which has many of the answers?  Probably not.

The authorities want to know why young people are not taking up science.  Don’t they read the newspapers?   The Times of Malta quoted from a Eurobarometer survey that the majority of Maltese youngsters aged 15-25 years find learning science “boring and unappealing”, even though more than 80% of those interviewed said they were very interested in scientific subjects. 

The education and health bureaucrats need to wake up from their deep slumber.  Read the next item if you are curious how to make the teaching of science interesting.

Polenta’s secrets

Anybody who’s been to Italy or has Italian friends knows how the Bel Paese’s people love polenta  ̶  that boiled golden and grainy cornmeal mush which tastes rather bland if served on its own, but pairs nicely with an endless number of flavours.  Toppings can include everything from venison, fish, rabbit, wild boar, and braised veal to mushrooms, tomato sauce, and melted cheese. It can also be used in desserts, including biscuits, pies, and pancakes. Some even eat it with Nutella.

Polenta is eaten across Italy, but there are three main regions in the country’s north where it’s particularly popular – Veneto, Lombardy, and Piedmont. Many recall how their grandmothers slowly stirred the cornmeal mush inside a huge paiolo copper cauldron on the cooker, then served it on the table, pouring tomato sauce, sausages, and onions over it before everyone grabbed their share.

Of course, nothing was wasted.  What was not eaten was put aside to be eaten the next day, when the leftover dried crunchy polenta was cut into sticks for the kids to dip into milk or sprinkle with sugar for breakfast. Polenta is believed to be Italy’s most popular staple food after pasta and pizza. 

During the WWII years it was eaten mainly out of necessity.  At the end of the day, family members would gather around the table and share polenta the pica sö way. Using their hands as spoons, they would rub each bite against a dried herring hanging with a string from the kitchen ceiling to give the plain polenta more flavour while conserving the fish.

Some food historians say that ancient Romans used to eat a softer type of polenta that was made with cooked ground spelt, but today’s version has its roots in the Americas.  Thanks are due to Christopher Columbus, who brought the “exotic” crop of maize, or corn, back with him to the Old Continent, which was unfamiliar with the commodity until his voyage in 1492.

According to chef and food historian Amedeo Sandri, missionaries returning from the Americas later exported maize to the region of Friuli.  In the 1600s, farmers realised that the cereal had a higher yield and shorter cultivation cycle compared to millet, rye, and wheat. Large-scale cultivation soon spread to Veneto and Lombardy, replacing traditional crops and triggering an agrarian revolution.

At first, not everything was plain-sailing.  People started suffering some serious side-effects from the polenta-based diet they became addicted to. They developed a peculiar disease called pellagra, caused by a lack of niacin – otherwise known as vitamin B3. Many suffered from dementia, diarrhea, and skin rashes.  With advances in nutritional research in the years to follow, Italians discovered the benefits of including polenta in a balanced meal.

For one, polenta is gluten-free, making it an ideal side for those with celiac disease. It is easily digestible, low in calories, and extremely nutritive.  In the northern mountainous areas it’s dense and bright yellow; further south in the valleys it’s softer and ivory-coloured; while along the Veneto coast it has a velvety, whitish shade – the result of being made with the premium biancofiore maize that pairs well with codfish, herring, and squid.

Anybody who has been to Bergamo and Brescia will have noticed how the polenta cult really flourishes there.  A favourite polenta pairing in the cities are osei – “little birds” – an obsession that has caused controversy, led to multiple court cases and attracted the ire of wildlife conservationists.  In 1992, the EU banned the hunting of protected bird species such as sparrows, blackcaps, starlings, larks, woodpeckers, robin redbreasts, and nightingales – all birds once favoured by hunters and polenta e osei fans.

Another heavy blow for polenta osei fans came in 2005 when the EU banned all wild bird trade, including the species that were permitted to be hunted. This meant hunters could no longer sell their catches to restaurants and food fairs, so many business owners removed the dish from menus.  But private households continued to celebrate the weekend with steaming pots of polenta e osei, the birds being provided by illegal hunters.

In 2022, the regional authorities of Lombardy lifted the bird trade ban, citing the area’s historical and cultural connection to its traditional osei dishes. However, there’s one rule – the hunter needs to supply it free of charge.  “Truth is, we’ve always eaten little birds,” says Piero Dominoni, owner of mountain tavern Rifugio Cespedosio near Bergamo.  “It’s part of our soul, we can’t give up on that.”  Proprietors in Italy’s Veneto region aren’t letting the trade restrictions stop them either.

“It’s part of our DNA, like Amatriciana for Romans. On Sundays, polenta lunches are our religion,” says Marco Pirovano, owner of PolentOne, a street-food bistro in Bergamo serving takeaway polenta with creative twists.

I might have gone on too long about this, but like my vanilla story a few blogs before, I proffer this to the educationalists as a way of teaching science, geography, food culture, history, trade, and economics, all in one go and in an entertaining way.

Main photo: Mikhail Nilov

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