Vegemite, the famed brown food paste and Australian staple, is a "precursor to misery," the Australian government said. The statement wasn't referring to Vegemite's bracing bitterness and extraordinary sodium content, long confounding to outsiders. Instead, Minister of Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion suggested the food spread is responsible for alcoholism and attendant social ills in rural communities.
Ordinarily enjoyed on toast, the high-yeast paste also can be used to brew homemade moonshine, Scullion said, citing cases of children arriving to school hung over. He recommended rural communities where alcohol sales are already restricted limit the sale of Vegemite.
Businesses in remote communities, Scullion said, "have a responsibility to report any purchase that may raise their own suspicions." Scullion called it an "isolated problem," however, and stopped short of recommending any coordinated national policy around the beloved food paste, which has been produced since 1923.
"It's a precursor to misery in some communities," Scullion said.
The announcement drew criticism from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who assailed the notion of a "Vegemite watch" as excessive government intrusion into ordinary life.
“Vegemite, quite properly, is for most people a reasonably nutritious spread on your morning toast or on your sandwiches," Abbott said.
News reports, however, have described moonshine operations in dry communities that have utilized bathtubs to ferment alcohol.
Alcoholism has long plagued indigenous Australian communities. Although Aboriginal Australians drink at rates lower than their white counterparts, alcohol abuse is more severe, with indigenous Australians ages 35-54 dying at a rate eight times that of their peers.