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Vegemite and Me
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According to a news story I read today, U.S. customs agents are searching people from Australia and New Zealand for Vegemite. They don't consider the salty yeast extract a terrorist threat, although some who have tasted it might differ.

The problem, I learned, is that The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits imports of Vegemite because it contains folate, a B vitamin approved as an additive only for a few foods. Ironically, one such food (to use the term loosely) is cereal, most of which is so unhealthy, even without folate, that merely looking at a box can take several months off one's life. (There are those who maintain that the Roman Empire succumbed to the Dark Ages thanks to the lead in their plumbing. If Julius Caesar and his buddies had eaten Capn' Crunch for breakfast we would never even have made it to the Dark Ages.)

Customs agents had previously allowed travelers to bring the stray jar of Vegemite into the country for personal use but have recently decided, it seems, that our collective health needs to more closely guarded which makes perfect sense. After all, over 40 million of us do not have the health insurance to allow us to seek out the emergency care we might need after ingesting Vegemite.

I was lucky enough to survive consuming two jars of Vegemite, but this was years ago, and I was much younger and more robust. Also they were very small jars, which suggests that hungry and determined travelers might rather easily smuggle Vegemite across the border if they aren't particular about where their snacks have been.

The jars in question turned up on the shelves of the Village Green Bookstore in Rochester, New York, in their imported food section. I can't recall exactly why I bought it. Something to do with the lead singer in the Australian band Men Without Hats sounding like the Kinks Ray Davies. Is it any wonder the publishing industry can't figure out why people buy what they do in bookstores?

Spread on a thin, bland water cracker, the stuff resembled congealed motor oil. Ah, but the taste...Definitely salty...but more than, exotic...just barely on the right side of being utterly unpalatable, like root beer Fizzies. Sometimes the taste buds get a thrill out of walking a tightrope.

And then, after two jars (admittedly several years worth) it was gone. Never again to be seen in any store I visited. Now, finally, I know why. I wonder when the official ban went into effect? Had I risked my health with bootlegged Vegemite?

I tried Marmite, but it wasn't the same. Whatever was in Vegemite that made it taste edible to me (folate?) Marmite lacked.

Since I won't be going to Australia anytime this century I suppose I will never taste Vegemite again. I am reminded of a children's book I once read about a snapping turtle named Big John Turkle. Big John was a melancholy sort and no wonder. One fine afternoon he dined on a shrimp salad sandwich which had fallen off a rowboat. He lived in hope that someday he would come across another such feast. I think that's one of the saddest things I've ever read.

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