It has not been a great year for Australian national pride. We lost the Ashes to England, our rugby team won just one game in the Tri-Nations series against New Zealand and South Africa, and Dannii Minogue is inexplicably still allowed to appear on television. Then, back in June, it was announced that a new form of Vegemite would hit the supermarkets. This abomination would involve mixing cream cheese with Australia's favourite dark, salty yeast extract.
More than 300,000 Australians were consulted over this crime against food and they were very excited about the addition, as it allegedly made Vegemite easier to spread without butter. Since then, Kraft Foods has claimed that 2.8 million jars of the cheesy conglomeration have been sold, proving yet again that nobody ever went broke by underestimating public taste. Then it was decreed that this new hybrid spread needed a new name. "Vegemite with unnecessary cheese", while accurate, is probably too wordy for a jar label. "Vegemeese" sounds like a little-known nationality and "Chegemite" sounds like a speech impediment. So, Kraft Foods turned to the general public for a witty new name.
Capital idea. Surely this clever plan would yield a name that would outwit the genius love child of Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde. Or possibly not. Out of 48,000 entries, the Kraft overlords declared "Vegemite iSnack2.0" the winner. Just when I thought my fellow Australians could not disappoint me further, a name that lacks any sort of imagination triumphs. I am sure the winner, a 27-year-old Western Australian web designer by the name of Dean Robbins, is a very nice bloke. He grins impishly from the Sydney Morning Herald website, proudly brandishing a jar of the newfangled gunk. His little tuft of soft rocker chin fuzz shows just what a funky guy he surely must be.
But I don't care for the lazy addition of an "i" to make something seem modern and groovy. Can Apple sue Kraft for hijacking the "i", I wonder, or is not possible to get copyright over a solitary letter of the alphabet? After all, Donald Trump can't get copyright on "You're fired" and Paris Hilton can't claim ownership on her vapid "That's hot". Whatever the case, iSnack2.0 is a ridiculously clunky name for this product. Do you pronounce it "I snack too" or "I snack two-point- zero" or "I snack two-point-oh"? No matter which way you say it, if you have to say it out loud to another human being, you're going to sound like a buffoon.
Then again, some of the other entries weren't much better. There was "Ruddymite", a tribute to current prime minister, Kevin Rudd, but it just sounds like someone's grandmother trying not to swear. Or there was the bizarre suggestion of "Wow Chow". Food with a rhyming name is not going to be classy. Turkey Jerky, for example, is not going to be the canape of choice at a royal wedding. Another aspiring Shakespeare used the broad Australian accent for inspiration and thus suggested "2ritemite", an eardrum-cracking corruption of "Too right, mate". That is the kind of embarrassing Aussie cliche seldom heard away from the set of Crocodile Dundee. And that film was released 23 years ago. What next? "G'Daymite"?
As I was writing this column, I was invited to join the Facebook group "Aussies against the name iSnack2.0!". I am very glad I am not alone in my bewilderment and horror over this culinary catastrophe. Excuse me while I click to accept. That seems to me to be a far more worthwhile use of Facebook than finding out that a friend's top five shoes are all Tod's loafers or that if someone you went to school with was an Egyptian pharaoh, he'd be Akhenaten.
And then another friend popped up in a Facebook chat window to inform me that Woolworths supermarkets in Australia now sell pre-made cheese and Vegemite toasted sandwiches that you simply bung in the microwave. I wonder if that particular abomination is being marketed as a "Lazymite Sandwich". Whatever the case, it all conspires to form a giant blot on Australia's frequently excellent culinary landscape. The only thing more alarming than a poorly named cheesy Vegemite concoction is a present my British boyfriend gave me. A jar of Marmite. Decorated like a cricket ball. To celebrate England winning the Ashes.