maligned loved product, from the Hormel Company, was first introduced to the world on July 5, 1937. Its name was based on two words (neither of whose products is actually in thing itself): SPiced and hAM. Thus, SP-AM. (The ingredients in Spam, as announced in early days were “pork, salt, water, sugar, potato starch and sodium nitrite.”) And the name “Spam” was the winning entry in the naming contest, even though the undisqualified person who suggested it, Ken Digneau, was the brother of a Hormel executive–a situation we’d consider deeply wrong, and insanely triggering, today, I’m pretty sure. Still, the prize was only $100, so hardly corporate graft on a large scale, even 83 years ago.
Spam really came into its own during WWII, when it was shipped, through the US military, all over the world. According to this site:
Among fed-up fighting men from Attu to Anzio, Spam became one of the most celebrated four-letter words in World War II, gave birth to a flavorsome literature of tales, odes, jokes, limericks.” It remains popular in areas where soldiers were stationed, especially in Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines. Spam also became part of aid packages to devastated Europe and Russia. As the former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote in his memoir Khrushchev Remembers: “There were many jokes going around in the army, some of them off-color, about American Spam; it tasted good, nonetheless. Without Spam, we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army. We had lost our most fertile lands.”— Time Magazine, September 21, 1959
Yeah. The more things change, the more they stay the same. When the chips are down, who you gonna call? (Not the US for much longer, at the rate we’re going at the moment.) Speaking of chips, Spam and Chips, yay!
My family loved Spam. I don’t know if it was a throwback to the war, or if it was that satisfying feeling that came from inserting the “tab” in the provided “key” and winding it round the circumference of the can until the lid came off. (Bonus points if there was no blood on the counter or the floor at the end of the endeavor, or if you didn’t somehow manage to get the little strip that was winding itself around the end of the key spiraling out of control and falling off or coming undone before you were finished.)
But we ate it in all of its incarnations. Naked Spam. Spam with macaroni and cheese. Spam fritters (they made an appearance in one of my favorite TV series last week). And on and on.
One of the most interesting bits of Spam trivia I’ve come across, I found while perusing Oliver Sacks’s book The Island of the Color Blind, in which he speaks of traveling on puddle-jumper airplanes around Micronesia, often in the company of a man Sacks called the “Spam baron” (who imported Spam to the islands). Sacks marvels at the popularity of Spam, writing:
…we were all revolted by the Spam which appeared with each meal–invariably fried; why, I wondered, should the Pingelapese eat this filthy stuff when their own basic diet was both healthy and delicious.
I had talked with the unctuous Spam baron on the plane; and now, on Pingelap, I could see the addiction in full force. How was it that not only the Pingelapese, but all the peoples of the Pacific, seemingly, could fall so helplessly, so voraciously, on this stuff, despite its intolerable costs to their budgets and their health?
Sacks later mentions the theory, propounded by Paul Theroux, in his book The Happy Isles of Oceania:
It was a theory of mine that former cannibals of Oceania now feasted on Spam because Spam came the nearest to approximating the porky taste of human flesh. “Long pig” as they called a cooked human being in much of Melanesia. It was a fact that the people-eaters of the Pacific had all evolved, or perhaps degenerated, into Spam-eaters.
That was the first thing I thought of when I came across the reference in the Time article above to the immense popularity of Spam in the Pacific countries during the War. Hmmm.
Although Spam sales suffered a bit of a setback during the early years of the “health-conscious” twenty-first century, it’s currently set for its sixth consecutive year of growth, and apparently sales are booming because of the pandemic, what with quarantine, people eating at home, and trying out “cooking traditions using Spam from the Asia Pacific region” (hmm, again) during what’s supposed to be a “meat shortage.” Perhaps there has been one in certain regions of the country; there doesn’t appear to have been much of one here–so, no Spam for me!
Of course, no post about Spam would be complete without reference to the greatest bit of Spam spam ever, or a mention that it’s the reason that all those unsolicited and unwanted emails that gobble up your bandwidth and eat up your disk space are called–what else–Spam.
So, here it is (sorry about the subtitles, I can’t find a better one that doesn’t have them):
I’ll have Spam and Birthday Cake. And Spam. Please.
PS: Veering slightly (but not too much) from the spirit of this post, here’s one of my favorite Flanders and Swann pieces, before it gets cancelled as culturally insensitive and wildly inappropriate: