Desperate Times Renew Demand for SPAM

by arnold on November 16, 2008

I don’t post about it much, but SPAM is treated with reverence at inuyaki.com. “SPAM is good food” is still the default tagline for most of my online profiles and my Yelp avatar was a SPAM can before I started using the Inuyaki dog logo. I even wore a SPAM T-shirt to Slow Food Nation in San Francisco earlier this year.

SPAM ShrineOur personal SPAM shrine.

As the economy worsens in the U.S., Hormel looks like it will be one of the few companies that weather the storm as American demand for SPAM increases. SPAM sales are on the rise as Americans look for alternatives to more expensive cuts of meat.

From today’s New York Times:

Spam “seems to do well when hard times hit,” said Dan Bartel, business agent for the union local. “We’ll probably see Spam lines instead of soup lines.”

Even as consumers are cutting back on all sorts of goods, Spam is among a select group of thrifty grocery items that are selling steadily.

If you don’t know the history of SPAM, this passage breaks it down succinctly.

Spam holds a special place in America’s culinary history, both as a source of humor and of cheap protein during hard times.

Invented during the Great Depression by Jay Hormel, the son of the company’s founder, Spam is a combination of ham, pork, sugar, salt, water, potato starch and a “hint” of sodium nitrate “to help Spam keep its gorgeous pink color,” according to Hormel’s SPAM Web site.

Because it is vacuum-sealed in a can and does not require refrigeration, Spam can last for years. Hormel says “it’s like meat with a pause button.”

During World War II, Spam became a staple for Allied troops overseas. They introduced it to local residents, and it remains popular in many parts of the world where the troops were stationed.

Thanks to the U.S. military, Filipinos have a long history of SPAM consumption, as well as canned corned beef and Vienna sausages, all of which I ate regularly as a child. But as I got older and tried to be “healthier” (whatever that means, haha), SPAM faded from my consciousness, although I do remember being introduced to SPAM musubi when I was in college.

About six years ago, SPAM reentered my life when I started working with a bunch of guys from Hawaii, where SPAM consumption is the highest per capita than anywhere else in the world. Then I met my my future wife, who is also from Hawaii, and SPAM became part of my life again.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat SPAM regularly—that would be crazy. But I don’t fear SPAM (like Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern), and there’s a sense of comfort that arises from a bowl of SPAM fried rice or a plate of SPAM and eggs that can’t be duplicated by anything else.

SPAM and EggsBreakfast of Champions, although I probably ate this for dinner. :)

I’m glad that SPAM is experience a renaissance, but it would be nicer if it wasn’t because of such dire circumstances. Maybe the economic downturn will help people truly appreciate SPAM instead of loathing it.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan November 16, 2008 at 2:02 pm

Well, this is interesting. Where I live, SPAM is nearly non-existent, and has always had a tendency to stay on the shelf. I always thought this to perhaps be because the food lasted so long and since no one was eating it… There always had to be a can tucked away from 1942 somewhere, right?

But I never actually saw what was inside those dusty cans until now. It’s actually less scary than I expected. And now that you mention it, I have been seeing more cans of the stuff in shopping carts lately. Apparently it still serves it’s role as a staple of hard times.

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Arnold November 16, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Ryan, SPAM and eggs is a classic and that’s garlic fried rice underneath. I’ve always looked at SPAM through a Filipino/Asian lens, so it’s always interesting to see what other cultures do with it.

Where are you exactly?

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Ryan November 16, 2008 at 2:45 pm

I’m in New York, specifically on Long Island, where the population is largely caucasian. I do go into and work in Queens everyday though, where the Asian population is large, but primarily Chinese, and they don’t seem to approve as much of SPAM as Filipinos and other asians ethnicities do.

As the grandson of a WW2 veteran, I was given accounts of SPAM as a rubbery sort of… substance, mass produced from ground-up cats somewhere. But it doesn’t look that bad here, honestly. Reminds me of labercase.

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Arnold November 16, 2008 at 3:36 pm

I wonder if it’s because the Chinese have their own canned luncheon meat made by Ma Ling. It looks like SPAM but doesn’t taste quite like SPAM..not as salty.

The Koreans, on the other hand, have budae jjigae, a.k.a. “Army Base Stew” that features hot dogs and SPAM among other things. It was something the Koreans made up using leftover, black market or stolen Army rations during the lean times after the war. I’ve had different variations of this stew and it’s really good.

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Jude November 30, 2008 at 1:24 am

That plate is the perfect breakfast for me. Sometimes I prefer tuyo, though.

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lester December 3, 2008 at 12:37 pm

spam doesn’t have to be unhealthy. i eat spam on a regular basis and i’m not dead yet. just switch to spam lite. it’s healthier and less salty

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Arnold December 3, 2008 at 1:00 pm

SPAM Lite is an abomination. If you’re going to eat it, go balls to the wall! :-)

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Sooj December 7, 2008 at 8:22 pm

“SPAM reentered my life”

Never let Spam exit your life.

By the way, in regards to your photo, another good variation:
Fried egg, sunnyside up, with 3 slices of bacon, on top of rice and kimchee as a side…for breakfast.

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The Beancounter January 22, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Hello there Arnold! I’m a newbie to your site… Great site btw!

It’s not fashionable…but i love SPAM…and i’m bringing up the next generation of SPAM lovers as well…

We thought we’re the only ones…probably here downuder.

And thanks for the photos… the only SPAM varieties that i thought exist are Regular and low sodium..

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Arnold January 25, 2009 at 2:59 pm

@The Bean Counter: Always great to know that future generations of SPAM eaters are out there… :)

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Royce February 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm

How did I miss hearing about the “In Honor of Guam’s Liberation” SPAM! I thought I had them all! Too bad I don’t know anyone in Guam …

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Arnold March 1, 2009 at 12:17 pm

@Royce: I think we got ours on eBay! :)

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