Spam is great. The 85-year-old block of canned meat has undergone a cultural reinvention.
Hormel has sold a record number of Spam for seven years in a row, and 2022 is on track to hit another such milestone. The group behind Skippy and Jennie-O turkey said it couldn’t generate Spam fast enough and is increasing production capacity.
Spam is a trending ingredient on TikTok and on the menus of gourmet restaurants in coastal cities. In 2019, the limited edition Pumpkin Spam flavor sold out in minutes. (You can still buy it on Ebay, for up to $100 per can.)
What is behind this phenomenon? Why is this piece of cooked pork long considered fake meat, linked to wartime rations, and hilariously fake on Monty Python now traced to foodies?
Spam’s prevalence in Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Islander cuisine has influenced its growth in the United States. As more and more immigrants came to the United States and fusion dishes and ethnic dishes became mainstream cultural trends, Spam reached the new, younger foodies.
Clever and clever advertising campaigns have also helped Spam attract a wider range of customers than the Baby Boomers, who have grown up eating it, sometimes reluctantly.
“Spam has been,” says Robert Ku, an associate professor of Asian and Asian American studies at Binghamton University and author of the book “Famous Cuisine: Asian Dining in America.” improved reputation”. “A lot of celebrity chefs are Asian-American and Asian-American, and have reintroduced Spam to new audiences.”
More than 100,000 visitors flock to the Spam museum each year in Austin, Minnesota, with stories to tell about Spam and recipes to share, says Savile Lord, museum curator in the brand’s home country. . Visitors often ask her and other “Spambassadors” museums how the Spam got its name and what the hell is in it.
Spam first hit shelves in 1937 as a convenient and long-lasting 12-ounce, 25-cent protein in a tin during the skinny years of the Great Depression. Spam is nothing but pork shoulder, minced ham, water, sugar and sodium.
It’s a concoction by George Hormel and his son, Jay, Austin meatpackers. Hormels studied “the problem of canning an unperishable pork product for many years, and we finally solved it,” Jay told The New Yorker in 1945.
They offered a $100 prize for the best name for the dish. It needs to be concise for display purposes and suitable for single-column newspaper ads. It must also be pronounceable in any language.
The brother of a company executive threw out “Spam,” a combination of “spice” and “ham,” at a party, and Hormel “knew at the time that the name was perfect. “
From the very beginning, Spam was marketed as a time saver and a go-to for any meal: Spam and eggs. Spam and pancakes. Spam and beans, spaghetti, pasta and crackers. Spamwiches.
“You never imagined a meat could turn into so many interesting uses. Morning, noon or night – cold or hot – Spam all hit the mark!” read an ad soon. The company tells consumers in newspapers and radio ads.
And then the United States entered World War II in 1941, a decisive moment in the development of Spam.
At many outposts in the Pacific, where there are few refrigerators or local sources of meat, American and Allied troops rely on canned meat that can be stored for months and eaten on the go.
Hormel said more than 100 million pounds of Spam were shipped overseas to help feed troops during the war. Uncle Sam became known as Uncle Spam, forcing the military to eat it every day.
“During World War II, of course, I ate my share of Spam along with millions of other soldiers,” Dwight D. Eisenhower later wrote to Hormel’s president. “I’ll even confess to a few nasty remarks about it – uttered in the heat of battle.”
However, for citizens of conflicting nations in the Pacific struggling with famine and famine during war and years of rebuilding, Spam is a symbol for accessing goods and services. US service. Sometimes, it is the only source of protein available. After the US military left, Spam persisted, becoming an ingredient in local dishes.
“Spam has become part of Asian culture,” said Ayalla Ruvio, a consumer behavior researcher at Michigan State University who studies consumer identity and habits. “It represents a part of America. It’s like Coca-Cola or McDonald’s.”
The US military also introduced Spam in Korea during the Korean War in the early 1950s, and Budae Jjigae (Army Cellar) became a popular Korean dish. Spam also remains a common ingredient in dishes almost everywhere American troops are stationed, such as Guam, the Philippines, and Okinawa, Japan.
In Hawaii, where the US military has long had a major presence, more spam is consumed per person than in any other state. It is layered on top of a block of rice and wrapped in seaweed to make Spam musubi and is sold at fast food chains like McDonald’s in Hawaii. There’s even an annual Waikiki Spam Jam festival.
SPAM MUSABI AND TACOS
Many U.S. soldiers returning from World War II vowed never to eat Spam again, and the brand is associated with rationing and economic hardship. But Spam has attracted new consumers in the United States in recent years.
Brian Lillis, product brand manager, said: “When I first got involved with the brand, we started to see this shift towards a stronger multicultural consumer group. “They bring with them the tradition of using the product in their homeland or possibly where their ancestors came from.”
Hormel worked with chefs at Korean, Taiwanese and Vietnamese restaurants to include Spam on the menu. When more people are introduced to these dishes, they go home and try to make their own versions, Lillis says.
Spam highlights its versatility in social media treats and TV advertising. There are ads for Spam and eggs, as well as Spam fried rice, Spam musabi, yakitori, and poke.
Ku, a Binghamton University professor, says Spam is making a comeback in the United States because Asian-American and Asian-American chefs like Chris Oh have tried to reinvent it in their own way. “They’ve taken some of the Asia-Pacific culinary influences and raised it.”