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Will The real SPAM Please Stand UP
Spam, the world-famous seasoned pork meat in a can, celebrates its 85th anniversary this year. And sales are booming, with tens of millions cans hopping off supermarket shelves a year. Imagine that. And where do you think most of this iconic canned meat is eaten? Any guesses? No? Answer: Hawaii. A staggering 7 million cans of it a year!
Let me back up a little bit. Spam was born in 1937 in Austin, Minnesota, the home of George A. Hormel & Company. Before then, canned luncheon meats from Hormel were sold to markets in six-pound blocks. Butchers would shave off portions to order for customers. Jay Hormel, George’s son, came up with the idea of packing smaller amounts in cans for home use. And today’s 12-ounce-cans of Spam are sold around the world. Total sales? More than 8 billion cans since 1937.
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Spam has been the butt of jokes for decades. When I tell people I love Spam, they say: “Are you serious?” Or, incredulously, “But you’re a chef!” Or in feigned disgust, “Do you know what’s in it?”
To the last remark: Yes, I do know what’s in it. The can of SPAM Lite I just bought lists the following ingredients: Pork with ham, chicken, water, salt, modified potato starch, sugar, sodium phosphate, potassium chloride, sodium nitrite.
The can says 6 servings, 2 ounces each. And 2 ounces is what I eat at breakfast, sautéed. Calories: 110, Protein 9 grams, Total fat 8 grams, Total sugars, 1 gram, Sodium 570 mg. Calorie-wise the breakdown is Protein 36, Fat 72, Sugar 4. The total comes to 112.
And if I happen to be isolated on an island (Wait! I am!), the can says “Best by May, 2025.”
Spam’s rise to fame happened during WWII, when millions of cans were consumed by hungry citizens of Pacific Island nations such as Hawaiians and by armed forces personnel overseas. Soldiers got so bored with it they joked about it mercilessly. Back home, they welcomed roast beef, chicken, and turkey with sighs of relief.
I grew up in Shanghai during WWII, where meat was always in short supply unless you were wealthy. My Dad befriended many GIs and they gave him a steady supply of Spam. It didn’t matter that our family was Jewish, and pork was definitely non-kosher. Spam took away our hunger, and I fell in love with its saltiness and tender texture. Once in love always in love. And to this day when I eat Spam I say silent words of thanks to those wonderful GIs.
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