2009 comebacks: Spam


For many people, Spam is a culinary joke, the ultimate example of cheap, dead-end cuisine. Perhaps its most famous pop-culture moment came in a Monty Python skit, in which every menu item in a cruddy, crowded cafeteria came with a side order of the ubiquitous pink product. Arguably, however, it has gained even greater renown as a broad term for unsolicited e-mail. Then again, according to some sources, internet spam was named for the Monty Python skit, and thus, indirectly, for the famed food.

Spam doesn't get much respect, either as a food, a phenomenon, or even as a skit (personally, I prefer the Bruces sketch). It is generally regarded as representing the worst in processed, fake meat, somewhere below canned chili, hot dogs, and corned beef hash on the culinary hierarchy. In fact, when I told my daughter's day care provider that I was going to try Spam for the first time, she scrunched up her face and declared that the famed pink meat product was "desperation food."

In truth, however, Spam has a long and proud history. For example, it was one of the few meat products that were generally available in the United Kingdom during World War II. Thus, the famed Spam sketch was born out of the fact that the meat was, literally, a life saver for the besieged island country. Spam made its way into the Hawaiian diet at the same time and for much the same reasons. It is still among the most popular foods in the island state, where per capita Spam consumption hovers around six cans a year.