Confessions of an international turkey jerky smuggler (Vanuatu adventure 1 of 2)


CULTURE SCHLOCK — By Darren Garnick
The Telegraph
August 17, 2001
EDITOR’S NOTE: Columnist Darren Garnick recently returned from a documentary film shoot in the South Pacific country of Vanuatu — via Australia. Here’s what won’t make it in the film. (Part 1 of 2)

Fearing I might otherwise be nibbling on tree bark in the middle of the night, teriyaki turkey jerky became the foundation of my emergency protein plan. I was headed to Vanuatu, a nation of mostly undeveloped islands that is sorely lacking a Trader Joe’s. I prefer the Snackmasters’ brand, dehydrated breast meat without a trace of evil sodium nitrite preservatives. Greedily, I bought five pouches.

In Vanuatu, pig roasts aren’t just for frat boys. Everybody does them. So much so that in some parts of the country, social rank is determined by how many hogs you slaughter. Given my semi-kosher status – I try my best to follow the Jewish dietary laws, but occasionally stray – turkey jerky would be a vital dinner staple for me. That is, until the authorities took my protein away.

Entering Australia, I brought something to the customs gate that I
should have left home: my honesty. “Yes, sir, I have food
in my luggage. And yes, officer, it is animal derived. You want to take it away? OK! Why, thanks for double-checking — I do have some more packages in my other backpack!”

Citing fears of foot and mouth disease spreading to the Land Down Under, Australian agents seized four packets of Snackmasters’ jerky. I neglected to mention a fifth packet stored with my camera. Foot and mouth disease is a virus that makes domestic farm animals go wacky, causing them to drool excessively, form painful blisters and lose full muscular control. It affects only animals with hooves – cows, sheep, pigs, goats – but other animals (including humans) exposed to infected droppings can unwittingly spread the disease even when traveling great distances.

The customs agent was polite and personable, like most Australians,
making it especially difficult for me to hate him. He was not impressed with the USDA seal of approval on the turkey jerky, declaring that the gobblers had “received antemortem and postmortem inspection and were found sound and healthy.” Nor did he care that the jerky was vacuumed sealed. So much moisture had been drawn out of this meat that if you cranked up the electron microscope, I guarantee you’d find bacteria jerky.

With $16 worth of turkey snacks confiscated, I envisioned the customs agent being a hero at home that night. “Honey, kids… Look what I snagged from the Americans this time!” Magnanimously, the authorities let me keep my roasted soybeans. I could’ve never mentioned the jerky at the border, but I was intimidated by the threatening Australian literature. Dehydrated poultry just isn’t worth a few months in the hole.

Still brooding over my protein loss, my fear of the Australian
government soon dissipated. I was now facing a missing sandal crisis. The Tevas swinging from the bottom of my backpack were missing when they came off the metal detector conveyor belt, leaving only a pair of dangling shoelaces. Frantically searching for the sandals, I sprinted past signs stating that I had technically left the country and could not re-enter other sections of the airport. The stakes were high: I was headed to a humid climate and my only other footwear was a pair of 55-pound hiking boots which can withstand a nuclear strike.

An Australian border guard, a cute woman in her mid-20s, darted after me and asked what the heck did I think I was doing. I explained the sandals crisis and she shook her head in disbelief. I technically already left Australia, she said, and I could not come back without going through passport control again. Because I violated those procedures, she cited her alleged right to detain me.

I cleverly reguided the conversation back to my feet, explaining their
crucial role in my upcoming journey. She cleverly reguided the dialogue back to international protocol. But instinctively sensing I was a friend of Australia, she gave me the “You crazy American!” look and let me back through the electronic gate. Being detained for sandal reconnaissance would have been worse than the turkey jerky confiscation.

On the way home, I picked up some kangaroo jerky (I said I was
“semi-kosher.” As any Leviticus reader knows, Roos are forbidden flesh) and debated how I would smuggle it into the United States. My strategy was a simple one: Claim ignorance. Dried kangaroo counts as an animal? I had no idea! I figured if the Dumb American card plays well in Australia, it must play even better right here at home. Luckily, I didn’t have to test that theory.
COMING NEXT WEEK: “Emergency crash landings on Third World aircraft: Why they are funnier when no one gets hurt.

Darren Garnick eventually found his missing sandals inside his checked baggage. His “Culture Schlock” column appears every Friday in The Telegraph’s “Encore” magazine. Feedback and ideas are welcomed at cultureschlock (at)

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1 Comment

Filed under Darren's Archive Vault, Vanuatu Adventures, Wacky Airport Stories

One response to “Confessions of an international turkey jerky smuggler (Vanuatu adventure 1 of 2)

  1. Pingback: “Crashing to earth in Vanuatu’s Air Force One (Part 2) « Darren Garnick’s Culture Schlock

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