Customer demand for that yeasty, salty, quintessentially Australian snack paste known as Vegemite is suddenly at an all-time high, albeit with a caveat: according to The Sydney Morning Herald reports, it is an increasingly popular ingredient in moonshine.
The national debate over the continued sale of Vegemite could be laughed off as duly spirited – if it weren’t a matter of life or death in aboriginal communities and, therefore, a human-rights issue that could elicit further international condemnation of Australia’s historical mistreatment of its indigenous population.
Vegemite, which began life as a World War II-era substitute for the popular British import Marmite, is now being pressed into service as a key part of homemade hooch in regions, namely Queensland and the Northern Territory, where the consumption of alcohol is legally prohibited.
The Sydney Morning Herald writes of “instances of people buying up to twenty jars of Australia’s favourite spread at a time,” solely, officials believe, for this unexpected, and illicit, use.
Overconsumption of alcohol has long been a chronic issue among the indigenous, but a partial or complete ban in their communities has met with mixed results. While there has been a decrease in the disproportionately high incidence of aboriginal child sexual abuse tied to alcohol abuse, as per a Reuters report, there has also been a spike in marijuana usage in those areas, suggesting that those in the grip of addiction have merely replaced one vice with another.
And now, The Telegraph writes, there are reports that men, women and children have developed a taste for the new drink, which some kids, ironically, mix with their recommended daily intake of vitamin C-rich orange juice. Nigel Scullion, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, says a few schools have reported students arriving for class hung over.
The result? Some elected officials want to legally restrict the sale of Vegemite. Scullion has gone so far as to proclaim it a “precursor to misery in some communities,” while conceding that homemade moonshine is not a problem in most of Australia.
But for now, Prime Minister Tony Abbott seems disinclined to declare a crackdown on the national snack. As he told The Sydney Morning Herald:
Look, this is a deregulatory government. The last thing I want to do is have a Vegemite watch, because Vegemite, quite properly, is for most people a reasonably nutritious spread on your morning toast or on your sandwiches.
However, some in the human-rights community — and the World Health Organization — might remind the prime minister that, when it comes to preemptive medical strikes, the category “most people” has long excluded Australia’s indigenous population and that not everyone recently buying Vegemite in bulk simply prefers it as a wholesome way to start the day.