Looking Backward Into the Present

Using the Popular Culture of the Past to Help Answer Perplexing Questions in the Present

A Word about SPAM…

With much of President Obama’s early history connected to Hawaii, it has brought to light the state’s unique association with a certain food item: SPAM. 

 

Yes that is correct, I am not referring to the White House’s new Internet agenda but rather the precooked meat product manufactured by Hormel Foods.  According to SPAM’s official Web site, www.spam.com, over 7 billion cans of the processed meat have been sold worldwide since the food’s introduction in 1937.  Furthermore, most statistics generally agree that Hawaii has the highest SPAM consumption rate per capita in the world. In an online article for Via, a AAA’s traveler’s companion, Constance Hale wrote, “Fiftieth staters consume nearly 6 million cans a year, or almost six cans for every man, woman, and child.  Some call the gelatinous pink pork ‘Hawaii’s soul food.’”

 

But what is SPAM and why is it so popular in Hawaii?  According to Rachel Laudan in The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage, the Hormel Company set out to design a canned meat that was neither tough nor bland. 

 

To beat the toughness, they ground pork up finely; to give it savor, they spiced it up with salt, sugar, and a variety of other flavorings.  They held a competition for a catchy name: in 1937, a certain Keith Daugneau submitted the winning entry—SPAM (spiced ham)—and walked off with the $100 prize. SPAM  joined and then overtook sardines, luncheon meat, corned beef, and Vienna sausages as a favorite.  All keep well, are quick and easy to prepare, can be stretched with vegetables, and taste good with rice.  In World War II, when offshore fishing was prohibited, SPAM helped fill the gap. 

 

In fact, because it is vacuum sealed and thus requires no refrigeration, SPAM became very popular with the troops stationed in Hawaii during WWII.  They in turn, introduced it to the island population and it stuck.  Hormel refers to the product on their Web site as, “meat, with a pause button.” 

 

It is such a signature food for Hawaii that a yearly event in Waikiki, called “SPAM JAM”, attracted approximately 20,000 people in 2008.  In fact, the canned meat is so popular that McDonald’s restaurants in Hawaii carry SPAM products.

 

One of the favorite ways of eating SPAM is in a sushi-like form called Musubi.  Time magazine reported that when President Obama was golfing in Oahu during the holidays, he stopped for two hot dogs, two sodas and two SPAM musubis.  Peter K. Yamashita, the general manager of the golf course, was quoted in the magazine saying, “You know he’s a local boy if he’s eating Spam Musubi.” 

 

Incidentally, the runner-ups for SPAM consumption per capita were the territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.   

 

 

 

Musubi: SPAM Chic

Musubi: SPAM Chic

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