A few tidbits about Spam for you to chew on

By: 

Roger VanHaren, Times Herald Columnist

About 10 years ago, I wrote a column about Internet spam, the nasty, annoying junk that clutters up our email in-boxes. The term comes from a Monty Python television show in which one particular episode made so many references to the canned meat product that the rest of the show was overshadowed by the Spam motif. So, no matter how good our spam filters are, we spend time reading through them, deleting them, or trying to unsubscribe to them. I hate email spam.

But I saw an item on The Writers Almanac on July 5 that said, in part: “It was on this day in 1937 that Spam came onto the market. The canned meat product from Hormel Foods Corporation was given its name by a contest winner; the prize for his ingenuity was $100.”

So Spam is a year-and-a-half older than I am, and we ate a lot of it when I was a kid. Mom used to fry it in the same pan with fried eggs and served it with big chunks of homemade bread for breakfast!

And even though people made fun of it by calling it “something posing as meat,” it became a popular convenience food during World War II.

Soldiers called it “SPecial Army Meat.” On one occasion, a Hormel spokesperson said the name was short for “Shoulder of Pork and Ham”; on another, a company official said it was a conflation of the words “spice and ham.” No matter what you think “Spam” means, there’s no question of its popularity worldwide.

Our daughter-in-law Nerissa grew up in Hawaii, so we’ve visited the islands a couple of times and noticed Spam is very popular. If you go to the Spam website, you’ll find that the island’s love affair with Spam began in World War II, when GIs were served the salty luncheon meat because it didn’t require refrigeration and had a long shelf life.

The Hormel Corporation, which manufactures Spam, provided 15 million cans to Allied troops every week. Between 1941 and 1945, Hormel had shipped over 100 million pounds overseas.

The website says that surpluses of Spam made their way from the soldiers’ supplies into native diets throughout the Pacific. We were on Maui last spring and saw huge displays of Spam in grocery stores, and in the delis we saw Spam musubi, a sushi-style slice of Spam served with rice and seaweed. On restaurant menus we saw Spam fried rice, Spam and eggs, etc.

Hawaii consumes more Spam than any state in our union, 7 million cans a year. Spam is so popular it has been nicknamed the “Hawaiian steak,” and you can find it at McDonald’s and Burger King. I read that during the last week of April, there’s an annual “Spam Jam” that takes place in Waikiki. President Barack Obama, Hawaii’s most psubirominent native son, surprised reporters when he ordered Spam musubi while he was on vacation in Oahu.

Also, according to the Spam website, Hawaii isn’t alone. In the territory of Guam, each person consumes 16 cans of Spam a year on average. In the UK, Spam fritters are served battered and deep-fried. In Hong Kong, Spam is often eaten with instant noodles. And as a result of the Korean War, Koreans enjoy Spam kimbap, a rice- and vegetable-filled seaweed roll.

Wanna go to Spam Jam in Waikiki? Enter the Great American Spam Championship Contest. Every summer and fall, some of the country’s largest state and county fairs feature Spam products in special recipe contests, a tradition dating back to 1990.

At the Wisconsin State Fair this summer, a Muskego woman, Georgia Wilson, was the winner. Her bacon jack turkey sandwich earned her the top prize. Ultimately, one national grand-prize winner is offered a trip to the Spam Jam Waikiki event in Hawaii!

We seldom eat meat these days, but I have a sudden craving for a Spam sandwich!

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.