Aside from the occasional geocaching cyberpunk, nothing tugs on the threads of the social fabric with more malice than a bunch of disenfranchised youths pounding back frosty glasses of yeasty vegetable spread.
At least that's what the Australian government seems to fear after hearing reports that the iconic Aussie vegetable spread Vegemite was being used to distill moonshine.
Vegemite, for the uninitiated, is a salty dark brown paste made from yeast extract. It is so popular Down Under that it has become perhaps the most identified representative of Australian food. Because of its similarity to the British-made Marmite, Vegemite became popular in Australia after World War II when the English stuff became impossible to import. Vegemite's umami flavor is catnip to many Australians, who put it in and on everything from toast to sandwiches to casseroles.
Made of brewer's yeast—a byproduct of beer brewing—the salty, bitter, and malty spread turns off most foreigners. Our very own President Obama called it "horrible" when he visited Australia in 2011. But Australians have always had a very special place in their hearts for Vegemite—at least until now.
The problem is that in an ingenious kind of reverse-engineering, Vegemite can allegedly be brewed into homemade moonshine. And people are saying that this newfangled brew is hitting at the heart of a complicated issue involving indigenous rights and rampant alcohol abuse in Australia.
But now, reports of Vegemite homebrew cropping up in these prohibited areas are all over the media. One death has even been linked to the stuff.
The purported epidemic has gotten so bad that Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has bemoaned Vegemite as being a "precursor to misery." The minister went on to describe a spate of cases in which children were failing to attend school due to being too hungover. In addition, Scullion believes Vegemite to be at the core of several domestic abuse cases in the indigenous communities.
The Australian government, however, seems to want to downplay the notion that the nationally beloved foodstuff is at the heart of an alcohol-laced crisis. Despite reported instances of shoppers buying up to 20 jars of the Australian staple, the federal government is decidedly against any sort of ban or enforced "Vegemite watch." Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott even spoke out against the imposition of any possible regulation, claiming that the vegetable spread was "for most people a reasonably nutritious spread on your morning toast or on your sandwiches."
Abbott added: "What's important is that we ensure that remote communities, all communities, are being properly policed." The government is pleading with local communities to take on greater responsibility in policing the excessive purchase of high-yeast products that might be used to make moonshine.
Not everyone in Australia, however, is convinced that there is any problem with Vegemite at all. Several experts are now claiming that it is not possible to make alcohol out of Vegemite.
Dr. Claudia Vickers, a senior research fellow at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, says that converting Vegemite to alcohol was "theoretically plausible but highly unlikely." According to Vickers, in order to make Vegemite, the yeast has to be heated to temperatures that likely kill it. Once yeast is deactivated, no hooch can be made from it.
So is there such a thing as being "krunk as veg spread"? Unclear. In the meantime, however, if you can't get wasted on Vegemite, you may find it can cure you of the lingering aftereffects of last night's party.