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Spam(alot) or a Little: The Story of America's Love/Hate Food

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

How Strange!

Is it mere coincidence that the name for our most dreaded type of electronic messaging is also the name for (what some people believe is) the most reviled of foods sitting on the grocery shelf?

Love it or hate it, the square-shaped meat-in-a-can celebrated its 80th birthday in 2017 and the manufacturer says that in those 8 decades over 8 billion cans of the product have been sold.

What Exactly Is It?

There is no truth to the urban legend that Spam is an acronym for "Scientifically Processed Animal Matter." The name is a combination of "spice" and "ham" (although the product contains neither one). Kenneth Daigneau, the brother of a Hormel VP, is credited with naming it. As Jay Hormel tells the story, he (Hormel) launched a naming contest for the new product during a New Year's Eve party. Daigneau said "spam," and the rest is history.

I knew then and there that the name was perfect.

— Jay Hormel, Hormel & Co. president, 1929

However, today Hormel Foods claims that SPAM is an acronym for "Sizzle, Pork, and MMM."

spamalot-or-a-little-the-story-of-americas-lovehate-food

With the introduction of Spam, American households now had easy access to an inexpensive, shelf-stable protein for their family meals, a God-send at the end of the Great Depression. However, it wasn't until the 2nd World War that the sale of Spam skyrocketed.

Faced with the difficulty of providing fresh meat to the front lines, our government, under the Lend-Lease Act, began to ship 15 million cans per week (that's 100 million pounds) to feed the allied troops. Spam soon acquired several nicknames; the ones I can mention in writing are "ham that didn't pass its physical" and "meatloaf without basic training." War-torn Europe also faced a food-shortage crisis, and soon the canned-meat product was made available to the local populace as well. By 1944, more than 90 percent of the company's foods were shipped for government use.

According to CookAndBeMerry:

SPAM staved off starvation in Japan and Korea, and was the difference between life and death for the Russian Army. Today, Korea is the second largest consumer of SPAM (the U.S. is number one) where it is seen as a luxury item, packaged in gift boxes for the Lunar New Year.

It seems that wherever the U.S. military travels (except, of course, to the Middle East), Spam goes as well. In Panama (which was under U.S. control for over 100 years), it is still wildly popular. The same is true in Puerto Rico, islands in the South Pacific, South Korea, and Japan.

Hawaii hosts an annual Spam festival (the Spam Jam). Over 25,000 attend the event in Honolulu and even the finest restaurants serve spam items on their menu.

Recipes In This Article

  • Hawaiian fried rice
  • Poor man's feast
  • Zucchini patties
  • Musubi
  • Mom's fried Spam sandwich
  • Homemade
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Hawaiian Fried Rice

As I said above, Spam is tremendously popular in Hawaii where it appears at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's even used in pho and a form of sushi christened musubi. TheRecipeCritic gives us this recipe for Hawaiian fried rice which contains (of course) Spam.

Poor Man's Feast

This basic recipe has taken many forms and been given various names throughout the years. If one replaces the Spam with leftover bits of roast, ham, or meatloaf you have what my family called "Hobo Hash." RaymondsFoods calls it "Poor Man's Feast."

No matter what you call it, the combination of spam, onions, and fried potatoes makes a hearty meal. Add a poached egg and I think you have perfection in a skillet for breakfast, brunch, or (my favorite) "breakfast for dinner."

Zucchini Patties

It should come as no surprise that a website named CookingHawaiianStyle would have a recipe devoted to Spam. If you have doubts about eating our featured ingredient, perhaps blending it with healthy zucchini, as in these zucchini patties, will help. (And for those of you who dislike zucchini, maybe adding Spam to the mix will entice you too).

Musubi

I would be derelict in my duties if I did not post a recipe for musubi--that quasi-sushi treat that is wildly popular in the Hawaiin islands. This one from ThirstyForTea is cute and bite-sized and made even more flavorful with the addition of green tea leaves.

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Mom's Fried Spam Sandwich

This is not even really a recipe, but it was a special treat in my household when I was growing up. (Money was so tight that even a can of Spam was a luxury). And so this is what Mom did with that meat-in-a-can:

  • Cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • Fry in a skillet until lightly browned on both sides
  • While the Spam is frying, cut a large tomato into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • Spread Nalley's mayonnaise (or any other mayo, but PLEASE never, ever Miracle-Whip Salad Dressing) on two slices of bread*.
  • Place two slices of the fried Spam on top of a mayo'd slice of bread. Top with slices of tomato. Top with the other slice of bread (mayo-side down, of course).
  • ENJOY!

* Our bread was always Wonder Bread.

Homemade

If Spam is so inexpensive, so versatile (it comes in many flavors now), and easy-to-find, why would you want to make your own? Some people still cringe at it's "mystery-meat" quality. So CupcakeProject created their own square-meat-not-in-a-can.

© 2018 Linda Lum

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