Mrs. Bun, played by Graham Chapman in the1970 Monty Python sketch called Spam, has my sympathies. I don’t like Spam either. I didn’t try it for decades, but knew I wouldn’t like it based on its ingredients. And it’s smell. And the gooey gel stuff that glurgs out when you remove the product from the can. (Shudder.)
Spam is made of pork shoulder (which is the most unpopular cut, so it’s kind of ingenious, processing it into unrecognizability and selling it in a can) and ham, and then they add sugar, LOTS of salt, potato starch as a binder and sodium nitrite as a preservative. The gooey gel stuff is a result of the meat being cooked in the can at the factory. Apparently.
In case you were wondering, that’s 609 calories per 7 ounce can, and 80 percent of those calories come from fat. That little can also contains 112 percent of your Reference Daily Intake of sodium. The possible side effects of eating Spam include:
- abdominal pain
- nausea / vomiting
- water retention / dehydration
- stomach cramps
- weight gain
- increased cholesterol
- increased blood pressure
- heart disease
- diabetes (children)
- damaged blood vessels
- decreased oxygen flow in body
Still, when Spam was created, it was a godsend throughout the world. It came out in 1937 just as the world was on the brink of a devastating world war. (If you think the supply chains are screwed up during this pandemic, try getting your steak and toilet paper during the deadliest conflict in human history.)
Spam is convenient. It’s easy to transport. It’s relatively inexpensive. It has a long shelf life (3-5 years depending upon conditions), and it’s fully cooked, so it can be eaten without any additional preparation if you have no other choice.
In times of war, troops and war-torn communities are desperate for food. They don’t care where their protein comes from, as long as they get it. Gross food is better than no food at all. Under those circumstances, I have no doubt that Spam has saved many people from starvation.
Having said that, though, you’d think the world would have outgrown this health bomb in a can. But in fact, it still thrives. It even comes in a variety of flavors such as Spam Hot & Spicy and Spam Hickory Smoked. There was even a limited edition Spam Pumpkin Spice in 2019, which is said to have sold out within a few hours.
The reason I’m even thinking about Spam is that I recently came back from a trip to Hawaii, where this product is extremely popular. Just check out the Spam aisle of an Oahu grocery store if you don’t believe me. Talk about a shelf presence.
It is estimated that every Hawaiian man, woman, and child consumes an average of 5 cans of the stuff every year. It was first brought to the island by American troops during WWII, and since these islands are so isolated, the convenience of this product has continued to have its appeal. There’s even an annual Spam Jam in Waikiki.
There is also a Spam festival in Austin, Minnesota where the stuff is produced. Austin is also the home of the national Spam recipe competition. And if you’re ever in that neck of the woods, you might want to check out the Spam Museum. It’s free.
Some interesting Spam trivia for you:
- Because Spam is basically everywhere, its name was co-opted to describe those annoying, pointless emails that clog up your inbox.
- Wikipedia mentions a Spam Cam that is supposed to be an internet camera trained on a can of decaying Spam, but when I googled it, all that came up was a way to make a pinhole camera using its container. Go figure.
- Dr. David Khorram, who also happens to be a very talented and humorous writer in my humble opinion, wrote two articles in 2006 for the Saipan Tribune when he was working in the Marianas Islands. Their subject was the horrible nutritional value of a product that he was forced to call an “infamous processed meat brand that starts with ‘S’ and ends with ‘M, and rhymes with ‘Pam” because, according to Wikipedia, the company that makes said product “threatened to sue the local press for publishing articles alleging the ill-effects of high Spam consumption on the health of the local population.” I would laugh at the absurdity of this if, in fact, Spam wasn’t having those ill effects. But knowing that info makes it a little less funny. Still, I urge you to read Dr. Khorram’s two articles in the Saipan Tribune. The links are below.
- For further laughs, check out the book Spam-Ku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf, which includes 150 Spam-themed haiku for your reading pleasure. Then hop over to Vimeo to watch a funny 4 minute video about a sad guy who discovers he’s won the Spam-ku contest and anticipates that his life is going to change for the better. A guy can dream, can’t he?
Okay. I’m prepared to admit that a lot of people actually like Spam. I can’t say that I understand why, but you do you, as the saying goes. Finally, about a year ago, I tried it, just to say I did. I discovered that my instincts were correct all along. I found it to be disgusting. But your results may vary.
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