It’s a while since I linked to an Oliver Burkeman article, so here’s one that’s particularly relevant for me this week. It mentions “phenomenal knowledge”, or “the knowledge of what it feels like to experience something”, in the context of tasting Vegemite for the first time. As he notes: “you can obtain such knowledge only from experience. No matter how much information I might be given by others about what Vegemite tastes like, that information can never amount to experiencing the taste itself.”
I have been quoting this for the four years and more since the article first appeared, as someone who had never tasted Vegemite. No matter how much it was described it to me I would have to taste it for myself to know what it’s really like. Yesterday, finally, I had some. The label on the jar simply says “Yeast Extract” and “Product of Australia”. Is there any point in describing the taste to you? If you’ve eaten it before you’ll already know how it tastes. If not, a thousand words here might not help you. You’d have to experience it for yourself to know for sure. Oliver Burkeman’s piece describes it like this: “By the way, Vegemite tastes a lot like Marmite. I know: major anti-climax”. That’s about right but the way it struck me (and I’m not usually prone to synaesthesia) is this: Marmite tastes brown, and Vegemite tastes like a green version of Marmite.
As so often with these “Word of the Week” pieces a song comes to mind, the one where I probably first heard the word. It’s “Down Under” by Men at Work, a #1 in the UK and the US back in 1983. You can see the official video here, with the line “He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich” at 1’12”.