Saturday, March 12, 2011
In Defense of Vegemite
by Yvonne Crittenden
I smiled when I read President’s Obama’s remarks about how disgusting he finds Vegemite, Australia’s national condiment. ”It’s horrible” he exclaimed at a Virginia school with visiting Aussie PM Julia Gillard. Growing up in Australia, I routinely smeared the strong yeast extract /Bovril-tasting stuff on my toast and crumpets, like my siblings and most of the other kids I knew. Sometimes we alternated it with Marmite, which is the meatier tasting version of the spread, and hails from Great Britain. In fact, I grew so addicted to it that when I moved to Canada more than 50 years ago, I panicked when I could not find Vegemite. Thankfully, I re-discovered Marmite was available here, imported from England (no Vegemite, however) and got so used to the slightly different taste, I can’t eat Vegemite any more. (Marmite is also available, if you hunt for it, in some American supermarkets).
I take supplies of Marmite on all overseas trips (including Antarctica and the Himalayas) and when fellow tourists see me putting it on my toast, they inevitably ask what it is, and when offered a taste, smell it and hastily decline, wondering how anyone can “eat that stuff”.
I knew my husband Peter, a Canadian, and I were destined for one another when comparing childhoods as we were courting. I found he loved Marmite, too! He had gone to school in England at one point and gotten hooked on it there. My two kids grew up on it, and I have made a point of persuading my grandchildren to get addicted to it too, by offering it to them when they were very small (preferably under three and innocent). Four love it, one doesn’t and the sixth is too small yet to try to convert. So long live Vegemite and Marmite — possibly the last remnants of the British Empire to survive!
Yvonne Crittenden reviews books for the Toronto Sun and has been a full-time journalist since she was 16.