Published May 8, 2015
The average Icelander probably doesn’t find parliamentary debates all that exciting. This week, however, they’ve been all the buzz. Why is that? Because our prime minister, the esteemed Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, left the parliament floor in the middle of debates—to grab the last piece of cake from the cafeteria.
“Did he go speak with the International Monetary Fund or the United Nations?” an upset MP asked the Speaker before going on to answer her question. “He left to have cake, esteemed Speaker. I must say that I find it absolutely incredible. I must ask the Speaker whether this can be considered acceptable behaviour in parliament.”
Of course the media picked up the story: “PM leaves floor for cake, MPs outraged.” Of course some media outlets dug deeper into what they dubbed #CAKEGATE. It was chocolate cake with whipped cream and braised pears, if you must know. And, of course, the internet laughed.
It occurred to me during this incident that it’s uncanny how much has been reported about Sigmundur Davíð and food—food that he’s eating, food that he likes to eat, food that he doesn’t eat. Surely he must have seen this coming. Surely the man running our country must have realised that him going for a slice of cake would become big news.
Let’s review: Four years ago, Sigmundur Davíð announced on his blog that he would be starting a diet: “Well, it’s come to this,” he wrote. “Tomorrow I’m going on a serious diet that should certainly be called ‘the Icelandic diet’, as it involves eating only Icelandic food.”
He reasoned a) that a gastroenterologist told him that Icelandic food was the healthiest in the world and b) only half of the food consumed in Iceland is produced here, so if you only eat Icelandic food, you will eat half as much. By increasing your intake of Icelandic food by 50%, you end up eating 75% of what you used to eat.
For some reason though, he didn’t lose weight, and he abandoned the diet as was evident in an interview that appeared in Fréttatíminn just before he was elected prime minister. For that story, the editor took him on a drive to Þingvellir and he apparently asked to stop for ice cream multiple times. When they finally made that pit stop, the editor reports that he came back to the car with ice cream for everyone and a Mountain Dew for himself. “And I thought only teenage boys drank Mountain Dew,” the editor wrote.
After he was elected Prime Minister, one of the first news stories about him was about how he stopped to buy waffle mix on his way to a meeting in the countryside with now Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson to talk about forming a coalition government with the Independence Party. Interestingly enough, it was his assistant who divulged this fact to reporters, who were evidently really hungry for a story.
Then there were all of those articles about his views on foreign meat (if you google Sigmundur Davíð, second on the list of related searches is “Sigmundur Davíð kjöt”— “kjöt” is Icelandic for “meat”). When news broke that Costco was perhaps on its way to our shores, Sigmundur Davíð argued that eating the chain’s foreign meat would get us Toxoplasmosis, which apparently affects a third of the world’s population and can, according to Sigmundur logic, lead to all kinds of behaviour changes. Again, the internet laughed.
Considering how much Sigmundur Davíð has been picked on for his eating habits and views on food, surely he must have stopped to think before dashing off for cake. Considering that he is the least trusted politician leading one of the least popular political parties in Iceland, surely he would be more careful at this point not to provide the media and his opponents with this kind of fodder. Considering that only 5% of the nation thinks he is in touch with the average Icelander, surely the cake grab must have been a ploy to make himself seem more human. Surely he saw this as an opportunity to get people to put themselves in his shoes for once.
And surely he anticipated that it would work, too: “I see nothing wrong with this. I would do the same,” someone commented on our news story. “I will not criticise. Cake is also my downfall,” another person said. “I WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME,” someone screamed. “That is to be fat at soul. I’d done the same. And if ever I couldn’t get a piece of the cake, I would have been mad for the rest of the session,” yet another person commented.
Someone even saw it as an act of modesty: “I’d have sent my chauffeur to Sandholt to buy me a whole new cake with the state’s credit card.”
Food for thought?