Australian minister fights for his Vegemite in US

AP News
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Posted: Sep 19, 2011 1:05 AM
Australian minister fights for his Vegemite in US

Australia's foreign minister said American authorities tried to confiscate his supply of Vegemite as he entered the U.S. It's the second time this year that Australia's signature yeast extract spread has sparked high-level _ if lighthearted _ diplomatic disagreement.

Foreign Minster Kevin Rudd tweeted Sunday that airport authorities in New York had questioned his bringing in the dark brown paste, a byproduct of brewing beer that is popular among many Australians on sandwiches, toast and crackers but is widely recognized as an acquired taste.

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

"It's horrible," Obama exclaimed.

"I love Vegemite," Gillard said, noting that their opinions of the spread serves as a "little bit of division" between the two of them.

The Australian invention, launched in 1923, has a high Vitamin B content and is marketed heavily on its health benefits for children. Australians abroad commonly bemoan how difficult Vegemite is to find outside Australia.

It sparked international curiosity when "a Vegemite sandwich" was mentioned in the lyrics of Australian band Men at Work's hit song "Down Under" that topped the U.S. and British charts in 1983.

Former Prime Minister John Howard claims that more Australians know the lyrics of a Vegemite advertising jingle written in 1954 than know the Australian national anthem.

Rudd, a former prime minister and avid tweeter with more than 1 million followers, arrived in New York from Mexico on Saturday. He will address the United Nations General Assembly before he is scheduled to leave New York on Friday.

On Monday, his office in Canberra was unable to provide further details of the airport dispute.