Minor diplomatic spat when US customs queries Aussie foreign minister's Vegemite

Kevin Rudd, the Australian foreign minister, reports that customs at New York's JFK airport tried to confiscate his supply of Vegemite, the Australian analogue to Marmite, a dark brown salty paste made from brewer's yeast and the sins of the multitudes, which is counted as a high-grade toast-topping in certain circles.
"Only problem travelling to NY is that they tried to confiscate our Vegemite at the airport. Needed foreign ministerial intervention," Rudd tweeted from New York.

"Airport staff were surprised when I said it is good for you & I ate it for breakfast. They then waved me through," he added.

Vegemite was also a source of disagreement when Julia Gillard made her only visit to the United States as prime minister in March. She and the US president, Barack Obama, visited a high school in Virginia where an 11th grade student asked what Vegemite was.

"It's horrible," Obama exclaimed.

Hands off my Vegemite, Kevin Rudd tells US airport staff

(Image: Vegemite for sale, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from martinhoward's photostream)


  1. I like that the Australian foreign service travels with its own vegemite supply everywhere they go. I imagine its the equivalent of American diplomats never leaving the country without a live bald eagle.

  2. I usually dislike Marmite, but have found it’s actually rather good when you have a hangover. Guess it’s all the salts, proteins and so on. And the flavour’s a bit deadened when your tongue feels like you spent the evening licking carpet.

  3. Was it just some procedural “even viscious fluids aren’t allowed to be more than 3 ounces!” nonsense,  or do we actually have airport staff that both don’t know what vegemite is and don’t assume that a sealed plastic jar labelled “Kraft Foods” is likely a food item?

    Also, if he loves his vegemite so much, why not put it in the Diplomatic Bag, and ensure that your breakfast condiment is entitled to the full protections of the Vienna Convention?

    1. The Vienna Convention? Why do I suspect that this is a case of some low-level government employee’s never having heard of the Vienna Convention, and insisting that the diplomatic pouch still has to be inspected to make sure that it doesn’t contain nail clippers, batteries, or fluids over three ounces? (Firearms, poisons, and explosives are OK.)

      Remember, this is a country that strip searches other countries’ ambassadors when they are traveling on diplomatic business. I don’t think that a minor detail like the Vienna Convention is going to stop anybody.

      1. I would say there is a high likelyhood of this just being a crappy political stunt by the sauce shaker himself

    2. …or do we actually have airport staff that both don’t know what vegemite is and don’t assume that a sealed plastic jar labelled “Kraft Foods” is likely a food item?

      Hmm, I don’t know. I’m not exactly a foodie, but even I would have difficulty characterizing all of Kraft’s products as “food.”

    1. Hey, hands off our high protein, good for you, savory breakfast spread ;)

      Yes, Vegemite is one of those love it or hate it things. I love being in a Backpackers and convincing foreigners to try it, the reactions alone are priceless.

    2. Yeah, but only in certain circles.

      Most circles of hell: toast bread. Butter. Rub on super dirty carpet full of hair and filth. Enjoy!

  4. Ok, I read the linked article and am trying to figure out how this turned into a diplomatic spat as the headline here suggests.   

    1. Per CSMcDonald & Michael Smith, I think we prefer not to see credulous stories in BB. It’s your blog, of course; if you simply want to wire it up to a PA feed, you go right ahead.

      In my experience, the MO for getting Marmite through a US airport is to say “hi, do you guys have a problem with disgusting vegetable yeast gook”, to which, after looking in an almanac of foodstuffs, they reply “that’s fine Sir, have a good day”.

  5. To be honest Vegemite isn’t the real deal as Marmite is… I heard it is even standard field ration for ANZAC troops… Anyone back me up?

  6. as much as i hate the TSA, i hate people that get special treatment from the TSA even more. they shoulda taken that shit like they would have for anyone else

    1. The special treatment accorded the privileged irritates me – especially when at the airport there is a line at the security screening station for the hoi polloi, and a priority access at the head of the line for first-class travellers. This even though the security screening station is staffed entirely by government employees, not airline contractors, and so the distinction between first and coach shouldn’t be meaningful to them. They’re not receiving extra revenue from the first-class travelers.

      RE the contrived spat in question, the story doesn’t tell us anything. If the jars were in his checked luggage, I can’t see why the TSA had any right to complain. But if they were in his checked luggage, it’ unlikely the TSA would be involved, that’s more likely a job for ICE (unless the checked-baggage screen turned them up as being possible explosives or something). If the Vegemite jars were in his carry-on, they should have fallen afoul of the rule on liquids, and should have been confiscated. I hate the rule on liquids, and I question its usefulness, but I don’t see why some Aussie bigwig’s gelatinous material should get special treatment over my shampoo.

      Also, as noted above, you can probably find Vegemite in any large US city, in some specialist shop. The sort of hotel someone like Rudd would stay at would have staff members capable of locating it, and the local consulate would probably have a stock as well.

      1. He gets special treatment because American law says he does; specifically, federal law provides (through incorporation) the relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. As he is the foreign minister of Australia, his person and personal belongings are, strictly speaking, not subject to search and seizure, should he choose to assert his rights.  In that case, the sole recourse for the US would be to deny him entry and declare him persona non grata, which is the diplomatic equivalent of a nuclear bomb.  

    2. as much as i hate the TSA, i hate people that get special treatment from the TSA even more. they shoulda taken that shit like they would have for anyone else

      Same thought. Though I think letting them keep their Vegemite might be punishment enough.Technically this was customs, though, which predates Dubya’s Trained Sexual Assaulters.

  7. I tried it several times. I was expecting it to be hideous, but I ended loving it, because my expectations were so low. 

  8. I am kind of surprised it’s taken this long to come to a head. I remember hearing about Aussies having trouble with bringing Vegemite into the US at least three years ago. Now that the foreign minister gets hassled it makes the news. But what will this mean for the plebians? Are they still to be denied their morning jaunt to Grosstown?

  9. Kevin Rudd is a bit of a dork and he occasionally puts out news releases which try to paint him as a normal guy. I doubt he actually eats the Vegimite. It has no much salt you may as well eat salt directly from the packet, and Rudd is recovering from heart surgery. When he was Prime Minister Rudd was famous for his attempts at using “Aussie Lingo” during TV interviews. It never sounded genuine.

    I gave up vegimite recently when my diastolic pressure started to climb, triggering an audit of my sodium intake. I got rid of 90% of my sodium by chucking out the Vegimite.

    1. Awww struth, fair shake of the sauce bottle mate. Kevin’s alright when he’s not the Prime Minister. 

      It’ll be pretty amusing (and sad) if he does end up the PM again though… by the looks of things its a possibility in this crazy political climate we’ve got going on here…

  10. I hope that they at least ran it by the radiation meters. I hear that Vegemite is at the heart of all Ozzie nuclear weapons.

  11. It’s true.  Vegemite could be considered a weapon of mass destruction.  If there is any liquid or substance that should be banned from travel it’s Vegemite and its ugly cousin Marmite.  

    I know there are people who like to eat the stuff but there are also people who like to cut off the tips of their fingers for recreational purposes and I don’t see anyone championing their cause.

  12. A hangover cure derived from beer production.

    How can it not be purest win?

    All the haters should stop and have a think about their own acquired tastes; who ever enjoyed their first sip of whiskey, for example?

  13. “Airport staff were surprised when I said it is good for you & I ate it for breakfast.”There are so many snarky comments that can be inserted here.

  14. I’ve had Marmite all my 50+ years and love it… hot toast, butter, thinly spread Marmite – ggrrrreat.

    But I tried Vegemite once and didn’t like it at all. I suspect it was The Yeast Extract Uncanny Valley – almost but not quite right. I wouldn’t be surprised if lifelong Vegemite munchers felt the same way in reverse.

    1. They do. I’m not a fan of either but I’ve lived in plenty of houses where there had to be both because different housemates would not touch one when the other had run out…

      I even once lived in a place with 3 others, each with different taste in disgusting brown yeast spread. Visitors wanting toast were always surprised when they were offered Vegemite, Marmite or Promite.

  15. Vegemite, Marmite, Dynomite, it’s all the same stuff, right?  How can you let dynamite on a plane, guys? 

  16. Well I guess our secret is out then, the reason why we can live in a country where almost every creature is poisonous or actively trying to bludgeon you to death (see Drop Bears), is because we regular ingest a poisonous protein supplement for breakfast.
    Its good on toast with a generous helping of margarine to cut the saltiness.

    1. Drop Bears? 

      Oh, right. Actually, we have those in the U.S. too. For some reason, they’re especially a concern when we go out snipe hunting.

    2. Not to mention using Vegemite for its main function; an effective Drop Bear repelant when smeared on the bridge of one’s nose or behind the ears.

  17. He should have said:  “Do you speak-a my language?” in which case the customs officer would have given him a vegemite sandwich.

  18. In the last few weeks I’ve made up and frozen several jams for the winter (Strawberry-Fig, Raspberry, Marionberry, and Mango-Blueberry).  I’m familiar with toast toppings…but not Vegemite or Marmite.  Could the foreign contributors who know about this product, please fill me in?  Can I assume this is ‘an acquired taste’?

  19. Vegemite is sadly owned by Kraft Foods. Bringing a jar into the US should be allowed under the ANZUS treaty dammit!

    As a yeast extract, I happened to live near the brewery where they get most of the byproduct to make the stuff (Abbotsford, Melbourne, VIC). My Dad, being English, grew me up on Bovril instead. However, when they changed to a vegetarian recipe and didn’t change it back for the Australian market, I stuck to Bonox (a Kraft invented and produced product). Kids would go rabid for my meat extract sandwiches versus their Vegemite one’s.

    Anyone familiar with Cenovis spread? I prefer that when I can’t get my black meat-goop in a jar. 

  20. Wikipedia says “yeast extract, a by-product of beer manufacturing”. This sounds just utterly disgusting.
    I guess you can add spices to any crap and make it palatable. I just cannot imagine what this stuff is about and how it came to be.   Does anyone know anything similar, which might be popular outside the “British Commonwealth of Nations”.

    1. Cenovis Spread and Vitam-R. Swiss and German respectively. I never liked Vitam-R.

      I guess other countries get their salty, umami hit elsewhere. My mother for instance, would eat bagoong (fermented fish and salt paste) with green mango and fried rice for breakfast. Took a while to handle that I must admit. 

    2. “I guess you can add spices to any crap and make it palatable”
      … if, by “spices”, you mean “salt”. Did we mention that vegemite is also black in colour?

  21. “Also, if he loves his vegemite so much, why not put it in the Diplomatic
    Bag, and ensure that your breakfast condiment is entitled to the full
    protections of the Vienna Convention?”

    Foreign minister does not equal accredited diplomat/ambassador.  Diplomatic “pouches” (which can be cargo containers) are closely controlled by most governments and those who can use them, even when working directly for the embassy of said country, is sharply limited both to prevent abuse and to control costs.

    1. You’re right that the foreign minister is not at the same level as an ambassador–he’s quite a bit higher!  In fact, the “foreign minister” in a country (like Australia) that uses a parliamentary system is the HEAD of the diplomatic corps of his country therefore, for the purpose of the Vienna Convention, he stands in exactly the same position as the Secretary of State does for the US.  

  22. What? I’ve had peanut butter confiscated twice on flights to India. Why doesn’t the TSA know their own rules? My masala charred stomach is angry.

  23. i have heard of many australasians having yeast spreads confiscated and was told its because they are a source of folic acid which is a regulated dietary suppliment (added specificaly to bread),

  24. I’ll tell you what, if you’re traveling with a shoggoth, you can have the whole damn plane.  Just keep it, I’ll catch the next one, hokay?  If you like, I’ll even leave some Marmite for it, I understand they love the stuff.

  25. I could see this selling next to the miso at rainbow grocery, but in a jar with the Kraft logo?  That’s just gross,

  26. To those commenting that Vegemite (or Marmite, Vegemite’s handsome relative) must fall afoul of the ridiculous ban on fluids:  Vegemite is a fluid in the sense that room-temp peanut butter or toothpaste are fluids.

    I personally prefer Marmite to Vegemite.  Good on toast with some butter or in a sandwich with mature cheddar and ham instead of mayonnaise.  No more disgusting than, say, yams, sweet potatoes, oily sardines/anchovies, acorn squash, warm Budweiser beer, etc.  Merely an acquired taste and, to those that happen to like it, quite enjoyable.

  27. You puny hu-mahns and your ‘Vegemite’. 

    We will crush you…make soup of your bones. Your ‘technology’ shall be our ‘fire-hydrants’.

    ‘Marmite’ shall be your species’ epitaph.

    (Photo-graph below is of me…taken by my mate, ǂ͡qlykaŋ͡ǂ ~ ǂ͡ŋd)

  28. I’ve been bringing it into San Diego via LAX for the past 5 years, never a problem. You can buy it in various shops anyhow (but way more expensive).

    I think what causes a lot of people to hate it is that they’re eating it all wrong! It’s good in moderation, a thin spread, too much and it’s definitely overpowering. Analogous to eating a spoon-full of salt, which won’t go down well with many people…..however when applied at the correct concentration on an appropriate vector….DELICIOUS!@!@!

  29. “You can take my Prime Minister-ship, but you’ll never take my Vegemite!”

    Seriously though, Vegemite rocks.  It also puts a rose in every cheek.  I got through twelve years of school  on cheese and vegemite sandwiches.  And the early years of student poverty on vegemite toast.

  30. FYI Kevin Rudd was the Australian Prime Minister until part way through his 1st term where he politically assassinated for trying to introduce an unpopular tax on mining companies. Julia Gillard was replaced him as PM.

    K. Rudd’s love of Vegemite should endear him to many Australians; even more than the time he gave everyone $900 each, which was totally awesome. I spent my Rudd money on shoes.

    Vegemite is tasty I have a big jar in my cupboard. Not everyone likes it, just like not every one likes salted licorice made by the Dutch (eeeeeeeewwww salted licorice)

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