SPAM

SPAM

When the information age needed a disparaging word to describe their annoyance with unsolicited email, they turned to a much-maligned meat product called SPAM. It isn’t hard to understand why, since pop culture has long poked fun at the iconic cans of processed pork. But, whether or not that reputation is deserved, one thing is clear – millions of people, whether they readily admit it or not, still purchase SPAM in considerable quantities, just as they have for over seven decades.

SPAM was created by Hormel foods and introduced way back in 1937, with its name either derived from its two main ingredients, shoulder pork and and ham, or as a reference to “Spiced Ham” – depending on which source you believe. Packed in an oval-shaped can, it required no refrigeration and had a respectable shelf-life, making it a popular addition to any home pantry. It sold reasonable well in those early years, but really hit its stride during the rationing efforts of WWII, offering families a tasty alternative to beef, both at home in America and in Great Britain where it wasn’t included on the ration list.

Of course, there can always be too much of a good thing and eventually, people on both sides of the pond experienced more than their fair share of SPAM. It wasn’t long before the canned meat became the brunt of many a joke. Perhaps most famously, the comedy troupe Monty Python took it upon themselves to mercilessly ridicule the oversaturation of the product.

While America and Great Britain were poking fun at the canned pork product, other cultures embraced it. In Hawaii and other Pacific islands, for example, where large surpluses were on hand after the war ended, SPAM worked its way into the local cuisine and remains popular to this day, with the typical person in these locales consuming an average of sixteen cans of SPAM a year. In fact, Hawaiians took such a liking to SPAM that McDonalds and Burger King restaurants both found success by including it as part of their fast food menus. It is lovingly referred to as “Hawaiian steak” on the islands.

SPAM, which is produced in Austin, Minnesota (known as Spamtown, USA), doesn’t quite enjoy the same accolades on the mainland, where it has the underserved reputation for being “poor people’s food.” That isn’t the case in places like China, Japan and the Phillipines where SPAM is a respected ingredient in many popular dishes. And, much as it did during WWII, SPAM still occassionally saves the day when disaster strikes. When a devastating tsunami hit the Pacific region in 2009, for example, Hormel donated some 30,000 pounds of SPAM to help with the relief efforts.

Whether you love it or despise it (and we are not here to judge), it is clear that the impact SPAM has had on the world is incontrovertable. And, for many who grew up eating it, perhaps on sandwiches or by frying thin slices, it remains a beloved comfort food, critics be damned. Finally, if you think the popularity of SPAM is overstated here, consider that in 2007, the 7 billionth can of SPAM was sold. Granted, that number pales in comparison to the 7 trillion unsolicited emails sent out each year, but it is still a pretty respectable number for a product so often maligned by the public.

Did you grow up eating SPAM as a kid? Do you still enjoy a slice or two from time to time and, if so, what is your preferred method of cooking? we’d love to hear all of your SPAM-related memories in our comments section below.

One Response to “SPAM”

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  1. Gina says:

    And don’t forget, Weird Al Yankovic did a song about SPAM to the tune of REM’s “Stand”. This was before the advent of the internet. I wish Weird Al would do a sequel song about spam, the e-mail nuisance.

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