Media Circus: The Mysteries of Brewing edition

So this week most of the mass media is purporting to believe that it is possible to produce alchohol from brewers yeast extract (which is, precisely, what’s left over when all the live yeast has been used up by a brewing process), and uncritically repeating a Cabinet Minister’s ruminations about Vegemite being removed from supplies to “dry” remote indigenous communities just in case someone tries to make moonshine from something which is not chemically capable of producing alcohol.

In short, the yeast in Vegemite is dead as doornails and broken down into what’s not even a vague semblance of the original fungus. If the yeast is dead, there is no way it can produce alcohol. Because it’s dead. Unless they added some live yeast back into Vegemite, and that yeast somehow magically survived the high-salt environment, the sandwich spread almost certainly can’t metabolise sugar.

So what’s really going on here? At best, it’s simple ignorance and someone in the Australian government unknowingly serving up urban legends about Indigenous Australians. At worst, it’s old fashioned racism spread by the Australian government to insult Indigenous communities.

Determined moonshiners could theoretically brew bread up with jam or marmalade, or local fresh fruit, and get something (mildly) alcoholic if they want to. Are they going to ban bread from these communities too?

Some people on social media have been saying that it doesn’t matter that it won’t work if they’re trying to do it anyway, and that just makes my head hurt. Even if some folks get some placebo-effect jollies from a zero-alcohol Vegemite stew, it’s not going to damage their livers or any other organs, is it? So where’s the possible harm, other than some slightly excessive salt intake, which is probably going to be self-limiting because too much super-salty stuff just isn’t very appealing?

Tony Abbott has now said there will be no Vegemite watch on his watch, but failed to point out that his Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion had been propagating an urban myth as the reason, instead preferring to fall back on soundbites about leading a “deregulatory government”. Because yeah.

What’s piqued your media interests lately?

As usual for media circus threads, please share your bouquets and brickbats for particular items in the mass media, or highlight cogent analysis elsewhere, on any current sociopolitical issue (the theme of each edition is merely for discussion-starter purposes – all current news items are on topic!).

Categories: health, indigenous, media, Science, social justice, Sociology

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4 replies

  1. Not precisely media as such, but Twitter yesterday (and more particularly the deluge of information about the Ferguson anniversary shootings) made me seriously wonder what the hells is happening with this world lately.

    I’m not surprised the current government here in .au is daft enough to believe it’s possible to make moonshine out of Vegemite – given their lack of knowledge about or interest in science (domestic or otherwise) this hardly shocks me. I wonder what they’d do if it was pointed out to them that there are yeasts which basically live in the air, and these are what cause things to go off… would there be an effort to ban air circulation in dry communities?

    (Oh, and silly me, I thought the point about the dry communities was the decision to go dry was made by the community at large as a way of dealing with the problem of alcohol among their people, rather than having it externally imposed by a government authority. Which would mean there isn’t the same sort of social license to brew alcohol within those communities that there would be, for example, in prisons. And isn’t it nice to think our Indigenous Affairs minister equates voluntary communities with prison camps?)

  2. In fact, in many cases just fruit is sufficient to get alcohol. As Megpie71 points out, there are yeasts that live in the air and also on the skin of various fruits that will do the trick (if in a rather less controlled way than brewer’s yeast). In the traditional way of making wine trampling the grapes actually starts the fermentation process.

  3. Same sex marriage opponents seem to be gleefully believing that First Nation Australians are a huge hive mind and that a bark petition signed by 30 of them is binding on everyone. Celeste Liddle has already blogged about her views on this and I hope other prominent people decide to do so as well.

  4. I rather like how we’ve just not bothered with any Bronniecopter stuff on this thread. It was quite a fun while on social media with the memes going round and round though, wasn’t it? Topped off by her conspicuously declining to join the traditional round of clapping for the new Speaker.

    The ongoing tit for tat outings of various pollies from various parties for claims that don’t pass the sniff test will probably be a good thing for transparency in the end. If they don’t want their claim pilloried to hell and back on Twitter and Facebook, then they really shouldn’t sign off certain items on the claim form.

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