A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
Knock, knock...

Thursday, March 22, 2012


It’s a well known fact.  Indeed, it’s so well known, it’s been knocking around the world since the olden days in the form of the Latin phrase “De gustibus non est disputandum” : In matters of taste, there can be no dispute. I’m OK sitting with that.  Still, I think it’s fascinating how tastes develop.
Some foods most of us love (rice, potatoes, bread, pasta) while other foods require early indoctrination /inculcation in order for acceptance to occur. They are so–shall we say “distinctive”?–that unless you have early exposure, you’re not likely to develop a taste for it in future. At our house we have a taste rift that I believe is a direct result of exposure or lack thereof.
The Huzby spent his early formative years in New Zealand, while I have never moved beyond my comfort zone of Northern California—specifically, the Bay Area. In general we agree about food. However, on a few key comestibles we diverge.
The Huzby cannot abide:
1)      Peanut butter
2)      Popcorn—neither the regular nor the kettle corn version
I cannot abide:
1)      Marmite/Vegemite/Cenovis/Vitam-R
(What’s in a name? That which we call yeast extract by any other name would still smell as retch-inducing.) Note: These are different names for the same thing from different countries. For the rest of this essay I will refer to this agent-of-emesis as Marmite—not overlooking the fact that fanciers of a specific brand all claim the others are inferior.  ::Ahem::  No comment.
I know you know what peanut butter and popcorn are and you may also know on a gross level (and I do mean gross)—what  constitutes Marmite. (If you’re interested in the history of Marmite please follow the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marmite. Everything you never wanted to know about it is there.) A quick tutorial on the making of Marmite:  You take brewer’s yeast, put it into a salty solution that causes the cells to disgorge their innards, heat the mixture, spin it down to remove the cell walls, and subsequently mix it with more salt, (Too bad the Star Trek dudes didn’t have this stuff with them when they encountered the morphing salt creature!) various vegetable extracts, (God forbid you eat the entire vegetable.) spice extracts, (ibidum) and various other vitamins.  And voila!
I know what you're thinking: YUM! Right? Let me lick that black stuff right off the knife!
If you’ve never seen Marmite nor smelled it, my most compassionate recommendation is that you never do.  At best, the stuff looks like dark brown tar—the same stuff that killed so many dinosaurs. Coincidence? NOT AT ALL. At worst, well, it staggers the imagination. Its consistency is more like peanut butter but the dark color makes it look positively sinister. A bit of free association yields:  Black Plague effusions. Squid ink pudding.  Voodoo glue.  Demon diarrhea.  Succubus sludge.  Incubus entrails. Enraged Ebola.  A pandemic in a Kraft jar. The stuff’s so scary looking you could imagine it killing the alien in “Alien”.  And the smell! ::Gasp! Choke! Wheeze!:: Salty, yeasty, rancid…I can only sum it up as noxious, lung-withering and gut-clutching. The stuff has the potential to cause your nasal lining to slough right out your nostrils and back into the jar where it would go unnoticed until some unsuspecting extract-eater took a swipe and spread it on his morning toast. Ugh.
Oh, and here’s some inspiration: They feed this nasty, toxic paste to babies! A non-exaggerated fact:  Marmite  is chock full of glutamic acid—that’s right, monosodium glutamate, a known excitotoxin. If I get nothing else across to anyone reading this, it would be: Do not feed this to your babies. Just don’t.
Because you can take the boy out of New Zealand but you can’t take the Marmite out of his olfactory memory, we have a jar of the stuff (actually it’s Vegemite) in our refrigerator. It expired in 2003. I haven’t seen him use it on food in probably 5 years but when the topic of the Marmite shortage in NZ came up a week ago, he quickly ran to the fridge, opened the jar and took a hit. “You can never throw this out!” I was told as he looked into the black pit lovingly and gently twisted the lid.
Does he actually think I’m going to get that close to it? Au contraire, mon frère. As far as I’m concerned that jar orbits its own sun in an alternate universe. I want nothing to do with that flask of fulminating malfeasance. I do my best to pretend it doesn’t actually hold a space on the door shelf. Although I’m sure when the door is closed and the light is out, it’s issuing orders to the other refrigerator inhabitants—trying to inspire the mustards, jams, and relishes to a pestilent mutiny. “We gotta kill that bloody Yank. C’mon then. Let’s show that Sheila what expired really is. Botulinum, Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas. Let’s grow some toxins mates, and get that bitch!”  Fortunately, the Vegemite says this with such a thick Kiwi accent, none of the other condiments have any idea what it’s talking about. So I’m safe. I believe the Huzby said it best when he declared that after the apocalypse, two things will survive: Keith Richards and Vegemite. There are no expiration dates on fine wine so why shouldn't it be that Vegemite too gets better with age?

Do not be fooled by this innocent looking bottle. Excitotoxins? Yes! Refrigerator mutiny? You betcha! Expired almost a decade ago? Indeed.

 As far as peanut butter and popcorn go, I confess:  We do keep a jar of peanut butter in the house. It’s there mainly to give the dogs pills should the need arise. I was fed far too much peanut butter growing up and have no desire for it other than an occasional yen for a peanut butter cookie. And I will rarely enjoy some popcorn at a movie, but it’s less enjoyable these days because the Huzby is so disgusted by the smell, he leans as far as possible on the outside armrest of his seat, as far away from me as can get.  As you may imagine, this does take some of the pleasure out of eating popcorn.
Anyway, as stated at the beginning, there’s no accounting for taste. If the Huzby had grown up in the States he'd probably be down with popcorn and peanut butter. If I'd grown up in New Zealand (or the UK or Australia, or Canada) I'd maybe be slurping down yeast extract like it was cheese spread. (That's a big maybe...) But I know one thing for sure: I'd have thrown out that disgusting jar of Vegemite by 2010 --without a doubt.