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Spamtastic:

The History of SPAM®

 

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EMG SPAM® Show Notes

It is hard to think of another ingredient that falls so firmly into the “you either love it or you hate it” category than SPAM®. It’s an ingredient that owes its existence in part to the French revolution, and its incredible success to the Second World War.

 

In this episode, our host, Simon Majumdar, follows the history of SPAM® back to the origins of food preservation and right up to its resurgence in popularity as it hits its 80th Anniversary.

Check out Simon Majumdar's

SPAM® Loco Moco recipe.

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TRANSCRIPT

EAT MY GLOBE: THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT FOOD

SPAMTASTIC: THE HISTORY OF SPAM®

 

SHOW INTRO MUSIC

 

SIMON:

 

Hi Everybody and welcome to the latest episode of EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Food.

And, in this week’s episode, we are going to talk about a food staple that owes its existence to early humans’ need to preserve food, to the French need to feed their armies in the 18th Century, and to the needs of the United States military to do the same during the civil war and two world wars. It is a food product that has been celebrated in comedy song, and has given its name to those junk e-mails that you receive -- not from us, I hasten to add. It’s received a presidential pardon, and has become beloved in the cuisines of Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines. And it’s also a product that, despite its sometimes polarizing effect on people, in 2017, its 80th year of production, sold more than it had ever done before in its history.

So, the answer to “what are we going to talk about this week, Simon?” is, of course, everyone’s favorite canned meat: SPAM®.

BREAK MUSIC

SIMON:

 

In June 2009, I received a rather unlikely request. I was asked to join the judging panel of the UK’s “SPAM® Cook of The Year” Competition, the winning prize for which was a trip to Hawaii for the Waikiki SPAM® Jam Festival, a celebration of the island’s famed obsession with the canned meat product. I had to admit to the organizers that it was years since I’d even thought of SPAM®, let alone consumed any, but they insisted I might be of value. So, along I went.

Sampling the candidates for the prize was an interesting experience to say the least, and while I can’t recall the winning dish nearly ten years later, I still have slightly dread nightmares about one of the entries. One contestant had taken a whole block of SPAM® straight from the can, hollowed it out, filled it up with corn, wrapped it in filo pastry before deep frying to a golden hue. When the “dish” was pierced with a knife, the contents oozed out on to a plate and into a gooey and entirely unappealing mess. Suffice to say it did not win, although I do think that the lady who submitted it deserved a prize for the name she had given her creation: “SPAM®-dora’s Box.” Brilliant name.

It wasn’t perhaps the re-introduction to SPAM® I had been anticipating, but it did at least serve to remind me that this simple product was capable of connecting with people in a way I had never thought of when my father used to fry slices for me as a quick Sunday supper. It was a feeling that was re-enforced a few years later, when I moved to the United States and I was asked to visit the headquarters of SPAM’s® parent company, Hormel Foods, to consult on another brand. As I walked around their head offices, I was able to see a number of displays of advertisements for SPAM® and began to realize that this was a product that not only was still very popular, but also had a fascinating history.

So, when it came time to choose a product for this episode of EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Food, SPAM® was the first dish that came to mind.

Before we talk about SPAM®, however, I thought it might be interesting to delve further back in time to look at two of the elements that have made SPAM® so popular. The first is its shelf life and the second, its portability.

Humans, from the earliest time of their existence, looked for ways to preserve food. Food, by its very nature, tends towards decay the moment it’s caught or harvested. Once the first communities began to form, people had the opportunity to preserve food for later usage rather than having to eat it immediately, as they did when humans were nomadic.

At first, this would be based on using what nature had to offer, by using the heat of the sun or the cool breeze to help dry foods. Or, using streams to cool products so they lasted longer. As people began to understand the processes, if not the science of food preservation, they were able to become more sophisticated. Methods began to include the preservation of meat and fish by pickling, salting and smoking, the latter of which served to remove moisture from the meat. The removal of moisture from the meat meant that bacteria did not have oxygen on which to sustain themselves and the meat could be stored for longer.

There are many sources citing examples of early civilizations salting animals, but one of my favorites comes from Greek writer, Strabbo, who writes in his book, Geography, and I quote:

“Borsippa is a city sacred to Artemis and Apollo; and it manufactures linen in great quantities. It abounds in bats, much larger in size than those in other places; and these bats are caught and salted for food.” End quotes.

Salted bats, anybody? Ahh, I didn’t think so.

And, even earlier than this, Cato The Elder writes in his 160 B.C.E. work, De Agricultura or, On Agriculture, about the salting of hams with a process that looks very familiar to modern practices. And I quote:

“You should salt hams in the following manner, in a jar or large pot: When you have bought the hams cut off the hocks. Allow a half-modius of ground Roman salt to each ham. Spread salt on the bottom of the jar or pot; then lay a ham, with the skin facing downwards, and cover the whole with salt. Place another ham over it and cover in the same way, taking care that meat does not touch meat. Continue in the same way until all are covered. When you have arranged them all, spread salt above so that the meat shall not show, and level the whole. When they have remained five days in the salt remove them all with their own salt. Place at the bottom those which had been on top before, covering and arranging them as before. Twelve days later take them out finally, brush off all the salt, and hang them for two days in a draught. On the third day clean them thoroughly with a sponge and rub with oil. Hang them in smoke for two days, and the third day take them down, rub with a mixture of oil and vinegar, and hang in the meat-house. No moths or worms will touch them.” End quote.

This is perhaps the first written mention of the making of ham, which of course is one of the ingredients in SPAM®.

One of the other ways of preserving food was the creation of the sausage -- a way of preserving meat by encasing it, usually in the intestine of an animal, with salt and other seasonings. Sausages had a number of benefits over hams. The first being that, using ground meat, they were a perfect way to use up left over cuts of meats and innards that might not otherwise prove to be palatable. The second was, unlike weighty hams, sausages -- even in quantity -- were eminently portable.

In Homer’s The Odyssey, written towards the end of the 8th Century B.C.E., the author talks about sausage. And I quote:

“Welcome words and a lucky omen too—Odysseus’ heart leapt up. Antinous laid before him a generous goat sausage, bubbling fat and blood.” End quote.

Talking about a sausage that sounds very familiar to anyone who has ever tried a blood sausage, a goat sausage, or even better, a goat blood sausage. Delicious stuff.

And famed Roman culinarian, Marcus Gavius Apicius, gave a number of recipes for sausages in his book, De Re Coquinaria -- or, The Art of Cooking -- including ones for brain sausages and a rather delicious sounding Lucanian sausage, which I might have to give a try myself. It included pork, crushed pepper, cumin, parsley and laurel berries.

Some of these sausages were to be eaten right away, while others were to be dried and smoked.

It was the latter variety that was the most important to the Roman military and why I’ve digressed in talking about ancient curing techniques and sausages while promising to tell you the story of SPAM® and its incredible success.

For an army to be successful, its troops must be well fed. There are records of armies being followed by wagons of grain, and vegetables and herds of live animals, as well as all the people it took to look after the supplies. But, when it came time to move deep into enemy territory, or to where supply lines might be stretched, food that was portable and not susceptible to spoilage was essential.

This was not just true for the Romans, of course. Across history, battles and wars have been won and lost by the success and failure of their supply chains. And, one of the greatest generals in history, Napoleon Bonaparte, is reputed to have said that “an army marches on its stomach.” Although we have no idea if Napoleon did indeed issue this statement, it does provide us with a neat segue to the late 18th Century and the next stage in the story of the origins of SPAM®.

In 1795, the Directoire, the French Revolutionary government, became increasingly concerned about struggles to feed their far-flung armed forces marching across Europe in pursuit of empire. The result of traditional methods of food preparation being found not always being satisfactory or consistent. In response, they created a competition, offering 12,000 Francs in reward, to discover new ways to preserve food.

The prize was not awarded until the early 1800s, by which time Napoleon Bonaparte had overthrown the French Directoire and become the ruler of France. The prize went to a chef from the Champagne region named Nicolas Appert. Appert is another one of those great characters from food history who have made a major contribution but seems to have been relegated to the footnotes. Born in the mid-1700s in Chalons–Sur–Marne, he received little formal education, but did show an adeptness at brewing and pickling. After his move to Paris, he was inspired by the prize offered by the French government and spent the next fourteen years perfecting his process.

Appert took his previous work with Champagne bottles as an inspiration, arguing that if sealing wine in a bottle protected it, surely the same process could work for other foodstuffs. To that end, he spent the next decade plus placing food in glass containers whose lids were then sealed with wax and secured with wires, before being heated in a water bath.

Although he was uncertain how his process worked, he had in fact created a system of canning, where food is heated up in a sealed container until any bacteria is killed and then forms a vacuum seal as the container cools down. In 1806, his efforts were given a trial run by the French navy and by 1810, he had been awarded his prize.

He used his prize money to set up his own commercial cannery, The House of Appert, in Massy, which was functioning until 1933. He also published a book on his work with the winning title, “The Art of Preserving All Kinds of Animal and Vegetable Substances for Several Years.”

Oh, and if you really want a fun fact to bore people with at dinner parties, Nicolas Appert also invented the Bouillon cube.

The invention of canning takes us one step closer to SPAM®, as I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know.  There is just one more stage before we begin to talk about Hormel Food’s most well-known product: for what would SPAM® be without its oh-so-familiar can?

Within a year after Nicolas Appert received his prize in France, English merchant, Peter Durand applied for and received from George III a patent for -- and I’m quoting Food Quality and Safety Magazine publisher, Wiley:

“a method of preserving animal, vegetable and other perishable foods using vessels made of glass, pottery, tin, or other metals.” End quote.

It’s believed that he took his ideas for the canning of food from another Frenchman, Phillippe de Gerard whom Durand had seen demonstrating his canning techniques at the Royal Society.

Although Durand was granted the patent to create containers of all materials, he concentrated his efforts on metal, reasoning that they would be much sturdier than the glass cannisters suggested by Appert.

In 1812, Durand’s patent was put into use by the British businessman Bryan Donkin, who paid him £1,000 for the right. With two other partners, they opened the world’s first commercial canning factory.  And by 1813, canned foods became available to the public.

Despite the fact that these initial cans made of iron plated with tin were available to the general public, they were not an initial success. For two reasons: one, because the cost was prohibitive -- around 10 shillings a can – more than the average weekly wage of a laborer, and the other was probably because the can opener was not invented until 1858 and the suggestion for opening the cans was, and I quote, “cut around the top with a chisel and hammer.” End quote. The first can opener was created in the United States by Ezra J. Warner and became an essential tool during the American Civil War.

Where canned products were found to be of use was their adoption by the British military. Donkin and his partners’ canned beef received high plaudits from Lord Wellesley, later to become the Duke of Wellington. He declared them to be, and I quote, “very good,” end quote, and he then recommended them to the British Army and Navy.

They also received royal approval when they presented their products to the Duke of Kent, later to become George IV. He was so taken with what he sampled that he requested them to send a case of every one of their products, which they duly did. Two days later, they received a letter from the Duke’s Private Secretary which read, and I quote:

“I am commanded by the Duke of Kent to acquaint you with his Royal Highness having yesterday procured the introduction of some of your patent beef on the Duke of York’s table where it was tasted by the Queen, the Prince Regent and several distinguished personages and highly approved. He wishes us to furnish him with some of your printed papers in order that His Majesty and many other individuals may according to their wish expressed have an opportunity of further proving the merits of the thing for general adoption.” End quote.

With such royal approval, it is very little wonder that Donkin and his partners’ enterprise would be a success, and by the end of that year they were supplying the Admiralty, who bought 156 pounds of food from the company, and many of the expeditions that were a trend of the time.

The reaction from the Royal Navy was universally positive where the canned food was seen as a way of preventing scurvy. Scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet and takes about six weeks to set in, which meant that sailors on long voyages were particularly vulnerable. Their diet consisted primarily of cured foods and hard tack biscuits, both of which lacked much in the way of nutritional benefits. The food that was stored in cans, on the other hand, was, and I quote: “in ‘a perfect state of preservation.’” End quote.  

The trend of preserving food this way in Europe and Great Britain did not go unnoticed in the United States. There are claims that a Robert Ayars opened the first commercial canning factory in the United States in 1812. However, I can’t find any firm proof of that, and the fact that the date given for the opening is a year before that of Donkin, Hall and Gamble’s facility in England makes it seem a little unlikely. Another claim is that in 1822, William Underwood, an English immigrant, who had trained as a tin smith in his home country, found his way to Boston and, with his brother, James, began selling canned goods of broiled lobsters and cranberries.

It’s hard to be sure who opened the first canning facility in the United States. However, we do know that in 1825 Thomas Kennett and Ezra Daggett were granted a patent to preserve, and I quote, “animal substances” – end quote – in tin cans. Over the next few decades, the improvement in the technology of both tin can production and sealing techniques meant that canned goods went from being a laborious endeavor producing expensive results to a situation where canned goods became affordable to the average person. The volume also meant that by the time of the American Civil War, the Union troops were able to supplement their diet of salt pork and hard tack with cans of fish, fruits, meat and condensed milk.

The condensed milk, in particular, is an interesting diversion in our story, as it was considered one of the most valuable purchases by the Union Army and was very popular with the Union troops. It was invented in the 1850s by a former land surveyor and editor, Gail Borden, who had become interested in food preservation. On a long sea voyage back to the United States, he witnessed the horrifying death of small children who had drunk infected milk during the trip. Spurred by this, he developed a method of cooking milk in a vacuum, so it didn’t burn and retained a pleasing flavor. With the help of outside investment, Borden began selling “evaporated” milk in cans as, I quote, “condensed milk,” end quote, and in 1861, it was one of the goods most purchased by the American government to feed the Union troops.

The success of canned foods during the Civil War along with the volume that increases in technological development brought with them meant, by the turn of the century, canned goods were becoming a common sight in American households. Not only did they offer poorer households the first chance to have access to nutritious foods, but they also began to change the dynamic of households because they could be opened and prepared easily.

Andrew F. Smith -- the author of the book, Souper Tomatoes, which is about the history of tomato soup -- says, and I quote:

“The average time spent preparing meals halved. The can was a welcome presence in the kitchen; it was the first flickering of a trend towards the emancipation of women." End quote.

It was also around the period following the Civil War that we begin to see the emergence of some of the very familiar canned food brands, such as Heinz.

And, since we are talking about brands, I think now is a good a time as any to start talking about the main subject of this podcast: SPAM®.

BREAK MUSIC

[Simon talks about connecting with him on social media: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook]

SIMON:

 

The retail meat company that was to become Hormel Foods, the parent company of SPAM®, was established by George A. Hormel in Austin, Minnesota in 1891.

Hormel was born in Buffalo, NY in 1860, his family having emigrated to the United States from the Rhine Province of Prussia in 1852. After travelling around the mid-west, in various unsatisfactory jobs, he finally connected with a customer in Austin, Minnesota in 1887. The customer’s meat market had burned down to the ground, and although it had been rebuilt, the customer no longer wanted to run his store. So, George invested $500 he had borrowed from a former employer and formed a company with the customer’s son. That partnership did not last. But rather than leave Austin, George founded his own meat packing company called Geo. A Hormel and Company.

George was known as something of a benevolent dictator -- demanding of his workforce, but also supportive of their needs and loyal to those who worked for him. For example, in 1898, when three of his men enlisted to fight  in the Spanish American War, he gave each one of them a $10 bill and assured them they would have a job on their return to work. This was quite unusual practice in the meat packing industry of the time, and Hormel became known as a tough, but fair employer. He also, employed women in his packing plant and appointed women from his family to the company board.

The company grew over the next couple of decades, and in 1921, George’s oldest son, Jay C. Hormel, who had returned safely from serving in World War I -- along with a French wife, Germaine “Gerry” Dubois, was given a bigger say in company affairs. And, it is to Jay that we have to say “thank you” for the introduction of SPAM®.

The creation of SPAM® was not a straightforward story, however. Jay was very entrepreneurial and saw the future of the company in selling meat products directly to the consumer rather than just operating as a meatpacker and butchery. In 1926, while travelling in Germany, he met a man by the name of Paul Jörn. Jörn was the owner of a meat processing plant in Hamburg and had developed a process by which he could can whole hams. Jay C. Hormel persuaded Jörn to come to Austin to create a canned ham for Hormel, which was launched in 1927 as HORMEL® FLAVOR SEALED™ ham.

Jay C. Hormel followed this with other launches of canned products which included canned whole chickens, spiced canned ham, canned soups, and pork luncheon meat made with pork shoulder meat and two other brands which most people listening to this podcast will be very familiar: Dinty Moore® beef stew, and Hormel® chili. He was also not afraid to back up his belief by spending $500,000 in advertising and marketing to promote his products, much to the outrage of his father.

This marked a point at which the original founder, George A. Hormel, realized that it was time for newer blood than his to take the company forward. In 1927, Jay C. Hormel became the acting president of the company. Now Jay may have been full of new ideas, but there was one way in which he was very similar to his father, and that was his belief in fairness to his workers. The tradition in the meatpacking industry was for workers to be employed on a seasonal basis during the peak time for slaughtering and then to lay them off during the down season. Jay C. Hormel realized that this model would not work for the future plans of his company, if he wanted to retain a loyal workforce, and in the 1930s, he began to introduce a yearly wage for his employees.

It was not all smooth sailing, however. In Carolyn Wyman’s fun book SPAM®: A Biography, she explains that because of the existing technology, pork luncheon meat was only able to be sold in six pound cans. Its main customers therefore were not home consumers, but butcher shops and restaurants. They would open the cans, slide out the contents and place them in a refrigerated display to be sliced to order. This presented a problem because Hormel’s competitors were not quite as determined to produce luncheon meat of the same quality and, once opened, one block of luncheon meat looked pretty much the same as another. Not only was the Hormel product more costly but many unscrupulous restaurants and butchers began labelling the cheaper product as Hormel’s and selling it on to unsuspecting customers.

This led to an extensive period of experimentation in the 1930s led by Hormel employee Julius Zillgitt not only to create a 12- ounce can that was the perfect size for home consumption, but also to create a process of canning the meat in a vacuum, to prevent the over production of liquid. The recipe for the contents was a very simple one consisting of five ingredients: pork shoulder, a product that was considered of little other value at the time; salt; water; sugar; and sodium nitrate, a product that is used in curing to create an attractive pink coloring. This recipe stayed the same until 2001, when potato starch was added for aesthetic reasons as it served to remove the layer of gelatin that was formed on top of the contents when they were canned; it also helps lock in the natural juices.

Jay C. Hormel also realized that whatever he produced was at some point going to be copied by one of his rivals, and he determined that, as well as a great product, he also needed a great name. After some thankfully rejected suggestions, such as one that was spelled s - p - i - c, the name was apparently decided at a New Year’s Eve drinking party where every person received a drink for suggesting a name and $100 was on offer as the prize for the winning suggestion. The final choice went to the name we know today as SPAM®. It was suggested by Kenneth Daigneau, the brother of Hormel Vice President Ralph Daigneau. Kenneth was a down the bill actor who appeared in some not terribly well known Broadway farces and who passed away of a heart attack at the young age of fifty. There are a number of suggestions about what the word SPAM® stands for, but a popular theory suggests that it was taken from the phrase, “spiced ham.”

Finally, the name SPAM® was registered as a trademark on the 11th of May 1937.

For a while, the sales of SPAM® to the home market were still a struggle, primarily because housewives of the time retained a suspicion for food that had not been refrigerated. However, between 1939 and the early 1940s, the annual sales of Hormel Foods doubled to around $120 million, the primary reason for which was sales to the American government.

Although in March 1941, the United States was still holding an isolationist policy towards joining World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Lend Lease Act. This allowed the US government to “lend” arms, food and raw materials to nations who were allies of the United States and who were at war, with the understanding that all costs would be paid back afterwards. It was designed to help Britain in its battles against Hitler while still keeping the United States distanced from the war.

It was an act that was vitally important to the British war effort, and on November the 10th 1941, in a speech at Mansion House, Winston Churchill, said, and I quote:

“The Lease-Lend Bill must be regarded without question as the most unsordid act in the whole of recorded history.” End quote.

Less than a month after this speech, everything changed for the United States. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December the 7th 1941, the United States had no other course but to join the war. Roosevelt, understanding the potential benefit of forcing Hitler to operate on two fronts, expanded the Lend-Lease Act to include the Soviet Union. He also believed that loaning arms and other goods to the Soviets would have beneficial implications during future post war negotiations between the United States and their communist counterparts. Overall, the United States loaned over $50 billion to Britain, the Soviet Union and 37 other countries during the course of World War II.

This Act was a key component in taking SPAM® from being an interesting new American invention to becoming a global phenomenon. The canned meat product was a vital part of the American war effort, including material support for the Allies before, during, and after the war. By 1944, over 90% of Hormel’s canned foods were shipped to the American government, and by the end of World War II over 150 million pounds of SPAM® had been sold to the government. Although, as Wyman points out in her book “SPAM®: A Biography,” not all of the luncheon meat packed and shipped by Hormel was actually SPAM® -- a decent proportion of it was generic meat purchased by the government and then packaged by Hormel and a number of other packers. However, Wyman also points out that Hormel later discovered that the military had made a substantial order of the real McCoy, the real SPAM®, as substitute for the generic kind.

The ubiquity of SPAM® in the diet of US soldiers and around the world had a polarizing impact. In his memoirs, Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union declared, and I quote:

“There were many jokes going around in the army, some of them off-color, about American Spam; it tasted good, nonetheless. Without SPAM, we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army.” End quote.

And, he was probably right. During World War II, the United States government shipped more than 100 million cans of SPAM® to the Soviet Union and Europe.

The British too developed a fondness for SPAM®. Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, later referred to it as a “war time delicacy” and when looking back to a meal served on Boxing Day -- the holiday observed in Britain on the day after Christmas -- in 1943, she said, and I quote:

“We had friends in and … we opened a tin of Spam luncheon meat. . . . We had some lettuce and tomatoes and peaches, so it was Spam and salad.” End quote.

SPAM® was not always so beloved by the US soldiers who became tired of mess cooks’ attempts to disguise its ubiquity by the creation of new dishes all involving the canned meat. GI’s referred to it, and I quote:

“Ham that has failed its physical.” End quote.

Although they were probably more glad to see it when SPAM®  formed part of parcels that were delivered to prisoners of war by the American Red Cross.

Such was the love/hate relationship between service personnel and SPAM® that in 1966, former U.S. President and Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a note to the Chairman  of Hormel H. H. “Tim” Corey saying, and I quote:

“During World War II, of course, I ate my share of SPAM along with millions of other soldiers. I’ll even confess to a few unkind words about it – uttered during the strains of battle, you understand. But as former Commander in Chief, I believe I can still officially forgive you your only sin: sending us so much of it.” End quote.

So SPAM® may have needed a post-war pardon in the United States, but also post-war, the sales of SPAM® began to rise, in part because of a massive advertising push by Hormel. By 1959, the one billionth can of SPAM® was sold, and by 2007, 7 billion cans of SPAM® had been sold.

And, there were -- and still are -- many locations where SPAM® did not need any forgiveness at all and where it still remains beloved to this very day.

These would include the Philippines, where it was introduced by American servicemen during World War II and shared with the locals, many of whom had been displaced from their homes. Seen as an American product, it was given an elevated status in the Philippines and is still regarded as a more expensive ingredient. So popular did it become that in 2004, a café opened in Makati City called SPAM JAM®, which offers a SPAM® hero sandwich, SPAM® Spaghetti and even versions of classic Filipino rice dishes with SPAM®.

In Hawaii, the story is a familiar one, with servicemen bringing SPAM® to the islands during World War II and sharing their supplies with the locals. The state now eats 7 million cans a year. And as I mentioned at the very beginning of the podcast, Hawaii also holds an annual festival to celebrate their love of SPAM® every year at the Waikiki SPAM JAM® and you can see examples of their use of SPAM® throughout Hawaiian cuisine. If you have never tried SPAM® Musubi, a form of SPAM® sushi, then you really must seek it out. And, if you are really into giving SPAM® a try, check out the page related to this episode on the EAT MY GLOBE website for a recipe I created for a SPAM® Loco Moco.

South Korea is the second largest consumer of SPAM® in the world. It consumes almost half as much as the United States with approximately one sixth of the inhabitants. It derived its love for canned meat during the Korean War when locals looked to this and other canned products for nutrition when supplies were low. Although it became popular out of necessity, sales are growing in South Korea every year. My favorite Korean dish using SPAM® is known as – and please forgive me if I mispronounce it – Budae Jiggae or “Army Stew,” which was made with rations donated to the South Koreans by American troops. It’s a deep red soup that, as well as containing SPAM®, also contains ramen noodles, frankfurter sausages,  beans and a host of other things. And as I can testify, it is the perfect hangover cure.

However, when it comes to true love of SPAM®, all others must bow before the tiny United States Territory of Guam whose population consume sixteen cans of SPAM® per person every year. Indeed, the six McDonald’s restaurants on the island use over 57,000 cans of SPAM® a year. And the island even received the honor of having a special flavor -- “Hot and Spicy” SPAM® -- made for them, which became so successful, it has now been sold in other locations. The population of Guam, primarily Chamorro, developed their affection for SPAM® and other canned meats like so many others after the end of World War II. When they were liberated from the Japanese by American troops, they were given rations of canned food to sustain them until fresh rations began to arrive.

Now, processed foods have been criticized for the amounts of salt they use. One 2-ounce serving of SPAM® contains 790 milligrams of sodium, which equates to nearly one-third of the daily requirement. So this has raised concerns about the potential negative health impact on those who consume a great deal of processed foods.

In response to this, and to customer requests for new innovation, SPAM® launched a version with lower sodium content, and has also created additional varieties including one with Jalapeño chili, a version made with turkey, and even a spreadable option.

And, now, even more so than before, SPAM® has become part of popular culture. In 2017, SPAM® celebrated its 80th Anniversary to much media coverage and sold more cans that year  than ever before.

And, if you’ve ever wondered why internet junk mail carries the name Spam, yes, it’s related. It derives its name from a very famous sketch by a British comedy troop, Monty Python. You know the one. Go check it out.

Now that seems as good a place as any to end this particular podcast.

I’ll see you next time.

OUTRO MUSIC

SIMON:

Make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at Eatmyglobe.com where we will be posting transcripts from each episode, along with all the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if you have any questions or if there are any subjects you would really like us to cover.

And, if you like what you hear, please don’t forget to subscribe, recommend us to your family and friends and give us a good rating on your favorite podcast provider.

So, thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, and we will speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Food.

CREDITS

SIMON:

The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”

[Sound]

And is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History and its Public History Initiative Director, Karen Wilson, PhD. We would also like to thank Sybil Villanueva both for her help with the research and in the preparations of the transcripts. I would also like to extend particular thanks to the marketing and communications team at Hormel Foods for allowing me the supply of information on their treasured brand.

Published: October 29, 2018

Last Updated: March 20, 2019

For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.