The news that Denmark has recently banned Marmite caused widespread panic among British ex-pats there, leaving UK native and Marmite lover Tim Harvey wondering whether the decision may have even more far-reaching consequences.
Since I emigrated to Malmö just over a month ago, I have often, from the lofty position that is the eleventh floor of my apartment, contemplated the beautiful land that is Denmark glinting at me from across 500 metres of bitterly cold Baltic Sea.
I have laughed and reminisced at length about great parties in Copenhagen
, and discussed the virtues of a country whose inhabitants seem almost impossibly well-mannered and carefree.
So why, then, does the same view now cause a sickening knot to twist in my stomach, debilitating me and forcing me to quickly draw the blinds?
Why does the land that once emanated so much warmth and conviviality now seem angry, loveless and ensconced in the unforgiving clutches of my antipathy?
The answer is simple: Denmark, to my immeasurable anguish, has banned my favourite foodstuff, Marmite.
The savoury spread has become so synonymous with the mantra ‘you either love it or hate it’, you suspect that it is only a matter of time before the definition of ambivalence is replaced in the dictionary by the words ‘See Marmite’.
Those who hate it react to the slightest taste of it by spluttering, gasping for water and generally pulling a face like a 17th century gargoyle. They talk about it in the same reproachful, venomous way that they would talk about al Qaeda, the congestion charge, or Gary Glitter.
Those who love it can talk about it breezily, and affectionately, in the way that you would expect someone to discuss their favourite childhood cartoon series, and are at once capable of launching an impassioned defence of the delicious, salty spread to any curmudgeonly detractor.
But it is the added vitamins contained within yeast extract (Marmite’s official, periodic table name, commonly abbreviated to YE. It‘s next to Einsteinium) that have irked the Danish government into adding Marmite to the list of substances in its naughty book, alongside Bovril and Marmite’s feral cousin, Vegemite.
These added vitamins, the Danish government would have you believe, contain malicious chemicals which are capable of causing a great deal of harm to all whom they meet.
To say that this been met with opprobrium by the ex-pats who currently call Denmark home would be nothing short of a massive understatement. There has been outright fury from Marmite consumers all over Denmark who have not let geography hinder their consumption of the vitamin-B-rich spread. Apoplectic messages have appeared all over internet forums from defiant Marmite fans who promise that the Danish authorities will have to pry open their cold, lifeless fingers in order snatch away what for many of them is the ultimate home comfort.
Tit-for-tat retaliation has even been mooted in some quarters, with a blanket ban on Danish bacon and Carlsberg beer exports being suggested as the perfect riposte to these newfangled sanctions.
Why does this concern an expatriate living in Sweden though, I hear you ask. Have there been rumblings about a similar ban being introduced in Sweden?
Are we about to see the kind of blatant Scandinavian supporting vote more commonly associated with the latter stages of the Eurovision Song Contest?
Or have clandestine Danish officials infiltrated Sweden’s top brass, bribing them into mirroring the ban in the first act of a greater coercive movement which could eventually spell doom for Marmite on a global scale?
Well, no, not really.
In fact, it seems that Sweden’s reputation for harmony and tolerance is still very much intact, at least on the Marmite front (The Marmite Front, incidentally, being the name of a group of fanatical Marmite fans who have been suggesting the most extreme acts of revenge. NB. Not to be confused with the United Front of Marmite, who are an altogether more docile organisation).
No, the cause of my unease is that for me, and anyone who lives in Skåne, it is far easier to travel to Sweden via Copenhagen, and that raises all manner of problems.
Though I have only been in Sweden a month, I have already exhausted my first batch of rations which, owing to the 35 kilos of other stuff in my baggage, was the most I could manage to bring on my first trip.
These rations included a box of Jaffa Cakes (which are available at Netto, proving the folly of this rash inclusion), some English Breakfast teabags (another unwise selection, given the wide availability of English tea in Sweden) and of course, a lovely pot of Marmite.
I lasted a good three days without the black stuff before I realised I was teetering on the brink of insanity, and was forced to visit a shop devoted to providing for British expatriates in Malmö.
Purchasing the smallest pot I could, my Marmite hit was satisfied, though my wallet has left bloodied and bruised by the encounter.
I knew this was not a long term solution. Not if I still harboured hopes of keeping the wolves from the door every month.
My plan had been to head back to the UK in June and, on my return, stow as much Marmite in my luggage as physically possible, in the hope of lasting until my next return home.
I’ll admit to patting myself on the back for conceiving what seemed such a watertight system. As far as spanners in the works go, the Danish government has well and truly reset the bar. They’ve swatted aside my childish solution with a scornful sneer.
“Nice try, son.”
In light of Denmark announcing, as recently as last week, that they are set to renew border control measures to Sweden, this leaves me with few, if any, options…
It appears that I am going to have to take a leaf out of Howard Marks’ book, Mr. Nice.
In order to satisfy my Marmite lust, I am either going to have to become perhaps the world’s first Marmite smuggler, or I am going to have to, on finishing my last pot, section myself for fear of harming those around me in a kind of maniacal rage that would frighten the horrific zombies of 28 Days Later into sitting down and having a glass of milk.
Denmark, I loved you like no other, but you have broken the heart of a man with only the most modest of needs.
If you have a rethink any time soon, you’ll find me sat in my room, blinds drawn, hoping for a cloudy day.
Need I suggest the perfect reconciliation gift?