Ever tried wombat cheese, kangaroo milk or Vegemite ice cream?
Ever tried wombat cheese, kangaroo milk or Vegemite ice cream?

Ever tried wombat cheese, kangaroo milk or Vegemite ice cream?

Neither have we, but over the years various food manufacturers have tried to convince us that they were going to launch these new products …always in early April. 1st April to be precise.

April Fools Day has been a perfect opportunity for people – and brands – to have a bit of fun and maybe fool a few people (even journalists) on the day.

Perhaps the most famous food-related April Fool was perpetrated back in 1957 by the BBC in the UK by the highly respected (and watched) current affairs program Panorama, which claimed that spaghetti came from spaghetti trees grown in Switzerland – and showed video to prove it. It may seem strange today that this bald-faced lie convinced so many people in the UK that spaghetti grew on trees, but it succeeded for a few reasons:

  • Today pasta and spaghetti are staple dishes in the UK and ‘food culture’ has advanced rapidly since 1957, but at the time spaghetti was regarded as an exotic food and most spaghetti eaten in the UK came out of tins!
  • Panorama was not a regular participant in April Fools and had a certain persuasive gravitas, helped by the fact that reading the voiceover was respected broadcaster Richard Dimbleby
  • Free to air TV (as long as you paid your TV licence) was huge in the UK at this time – of the 16 million homes in the UK back then, 7 million had a television and the BBC was the more authoritative of the two channels then available (the other was ITV which – shock horror – had ads)

What is interesting is that Panorama was an evening show so – technically – perhaps it breached the golden rule of April Fool, which is of course that April Fool pranks are only valid in the morning.

It might be a little harder to fool people today, but that hasn’t stopped businesses or media outlets from trying, and over the years there’s been a complete smorgasbord (pun intended) of food related April Fools pranks to choose from…

In Australia

  • Vegemite ice cream
  • Vegemite Tim Tams
  • Vegemite flavour Dare milk
  • Vegemi-tea bubble tea (that’s enough Vegemite)
  • Kangaroo Milk
  • Wombat Cheese
  • Brumby’s Fairy Bread Loaf
  • McFry burger with – you guessed it – french fries inside
  • Banana flavoured toothpaste

…to name just a few.

On the international stage

Too many to list really but the big ones in addition to the spaghetti tree were…

  • Veggie flavoured Skittles
  • Burger King’s (Hungry Jack’s) Left Handed Whopper
  • Liberty Bell in Philadelphia in the US changing its name to the Taco Liberty Bell

The origins of April Fools Day

There’s no clear winner in a range of possible origins of the day, but the two most popular theories are…

  • Ancient Roman Festival of Hilaria. Held at the end of March when participants would dress in disguises and play pranks on each other and engaged in much ‘hilarity’.
  • Change from Julian calendar to Gregorian calendar. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII decided to swap from the old Julian calendar kicked off by – and named after – Julius Caesar in 45BC to a new ‘Gregorian’ calendar which moved the start of the year from the end of March/beginning of April to where it is now. The main reason was to align the calendar year more closely with the ‘solar’ year. With no 24 hour news cycle, social media or mobile phones it took quite a while to spread the news that the calendar had changed and many people out in the country didn’t get the memo and continued to celebrate New Year’s in April. They were referred to by those in the know as ‘April Fools’, or more commonly in France and other countries as ‘April Fish’ – ‘Poissons d’Avril’. And where possible it was also customary to stick little drawings of fish on their backs without them knowing, to reinforce the fact.

There’s also a theory that it started much earlier in England, with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales written in 1392 describing a story of a cockerel being fooled by a fox – on 1st April, but this is disputed by many scholars.

The first documented April Fool – in England in any case – was in 1698 when some enterprising prankster printed up official invitations to see ‘the annual washing of the lions’ at the Tower of London on the day. There were real lions kept there at the time, but they certainly were not washed in the moat as the invitation indicated. People trying to use their tickets were also pointed to the fictional ‘white gate’. This prank turned up fairly regularly on April 1st – something less easy today.

These early April Fools jokes three hundred years later have almost developed into an industry – called ‘prankvertising’ – as brands large and small get another more alternative promotion opportunity.

Beware though that not all countries are fans of April Fools – if you happen to be in Thailand on the day, you should know that ‘posting or sharing fake news online could lead to maximum of five years imprisonment’. We’re not aware if anyone has actually ever been convicted – we’ll do some research and get back to you around this time next year…

Main image: The April Fool or The Follies of a Night – James Gillray 1786. Courtesy Yale Center for British Art

Share this post

Start typing and press Enter to search

Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.