Summer Camp Notes: The Day Vegemite was Banned

I’m not sure how to explain my connection with Vegemite as an Australian. When asked by people I say that it’s  kind of comparable to the Irish losing Guinness (though there are other beers to choose from), or maybe it’s like  Asia losing rice (but then again that would be a big world problem if it ever happened.) I’ve eaten Vegemite for  as long as I can remember – from the toast soldiers Mum cut for me as a three-year-old to faithfully carrying a jar of it around the world with me at 21. It has some how became part of my being without ever realising, giving me the  little spark I need, when at home or on the road, to make me feel like a super hero.

The best days at camp were the ones when I remembered to bring my jar of Vegemite into the dining hall to eat  or share; or better yet, when my Aussie friend raced back to her bunk in order to share her sachets of the brown stuff she received in the mail all because she knew it would make both our days better. The same applies back at home. I  feel better just for having toast with Vegemite (though I do recommend you try Vegemite AND strawberry jam  sometime. Same result just sweeter!)

During my three-months working at an American summer camp I preached the good word of Vegemite, and with the help of my fellow Australians, managed to convert two Americans and an Irishman into Vegemite fans. The kids with whom I shared a bunkhouse with, and who I ate breakfast with every morning, were not so impressed. Actually come to think about it, anyone except the Australians weren’t impressed at all.

One morning as everyone is tucking into their toast, cereal or ‘bricks’ (aka – packet waffles), the head of Boys side got on the PA and dealt an earth shattering blow –
No non-kosher foods will be allowed in the dining hall…” – okay, so that’s fair enough. We are at a kosher Jewish camp after all and when in Rome. – “…Australians, this includes no Vegemite.
Yeah you silly Australians – Hang on, what?! No Vegemite… for, for breakfast? My world stopped for a heartbeat. In my head I imagined every Australian (about 40% of the counsellor population) dropping their knives and forks to the table in shock, but I was so stunned, who knows what happened in that short time.

I was already homesick, ready to throw in the towel & ship myself off to the UK, and stuck with rabid (did I mention snotty? Yes, rabid AND snotty) kids 24-hours a day/6-days a week, and they wanted to take away the ONE little thing that made my day better? Uh-uh, I don’t think so.

The heads of both boys and girls side of camp (rabid and snotty kids and I was separated from the opposite sex – where is the humanity?!) were instantly surrounded by the Australians pleading their case. Vegemite doesn’t contain nuts – so the kids with nut allergies would be fine. It doesn’t contain sugar – so it won’t cause the kids to be any crazier than normal, nor will they search the counsellors belongings just to dip their fingers into it because it isn’t sweet. It doesn’t contain dairy – so it can’t harm the lactose intolerant among us. Really the worst that could happen with Vegemite is inflame the intestines of a camper with Celiac disease! But being unrelentless they disagreed with the crowd even when handed a jar with the Australian kosher symbol clearly printed on the label. Apparently the Australian kosher symbol didn’t cut it, it needed an American kosher symbol.

The Vegemite War of Summer 2011 seemed lost and people were returning to their tables. Well, it seemed lost until Rex stepped in. Rex was scary and not in a big tough guy way, no he was scary in a small, fast, tongue quicker than a bull-whip-type way. And luck for us Rex ate Vegemite on toast for breakfast every morning without fail.
I will leave camp if we aren’t allowed Vegemite. I mean for goodness sake, it’s just yeast extract.
Well that shut us all up. Rex, an Aussie who’d worked at camp for several years was prepared to leave camp over his beloved Vegemite. What a champ!

A decision was made to talk to the director of both camps and a decision would be made by dinner. The day that followed was nerve racking – would I be allowed my precious Vegemite for breakfast tomorrow? I had every finger and toe crossed that the news would be good. The top news story that day on Silver Lake Radio was not baseball or how good the volleyball girls looked playing against the opponent camp right infront of the radio shack – it was Vegemite.

At dinner that day an announcement was made over the PA in the dining hall – “Counsellors, Vegemite will be allowed  in the dining hall.”


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