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The recently cut short Mexican cruise of the Carnival Splendor due to an onboard fire, has produced an interesting mystery regarding the serving , or not, of this much derided pink meat. Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines says it sent a supplier an urgent request for 65,000 pounds of supplies and canned and boxed foods, with the option of substituting similar items if a requested product was unavailable. Some SPAM was shipped, as evidenced by newspaper shots of the dock, but one does wonder what product could possibly be substituted by SPAM. With the press reporting that SPAM was eaten on board, a denial was issued by a Carnival Senior Cruise Director who acknowledged that SPAM was received on-board, but insisted it wasn’t served to Guests or Crew. What were they waiting for; a special occasion? Adding to the mystery, after docking in the Californian port of San Diego the SPAM was trucked a few miles to a Navy Air Station, which interestingly, would not confirm whether the SPAM was actually received. Curiouser and curiouser said Alice. Shades of Rockwell here don’t you think, I wonder what they are hiding, illegal SPAMmers ?
Perhaps it was appropriate that Carnival Cruise lines, long catering to the cheaper end of the market since their inception, would accept SPAM; sometimes considered poor people’s food.
But you know there’s a lot of fuss about SPAM, so in order to separate the wheat from the chaff I took the case. My purchased tin is quaintly labeled “SPAM” with a smaller subtitle “Classic”. Yes, just like Coke, SPAM has a classic recipe and the ingrediments are: pork with ham, salt, water, modified potato starch (a binder), sugar (taste), and sodium nitrite (prevent botulism and act as a preservative). As my Dad says when he tries something new, “there’s nothing to dislike”. How true. Much of the calorific content comes from the amount of fat, over 30% of our daily requirement, but this is meat after all. Yes, pork and ham.
My wife is one of those people who have some sort of genetic predisposition that prevents them from eating SPAM. It’s not that they won’t eat it, they just can’t. Can I carve a slice off the SPAM loin dear? (Those of you who are grammar experts will no doubt say; I don’t know, can you? Very droll). I think she would rather eat monkey brains with a spoon than allow SPAM to cross her lips. Is it the cheap food stigma, the fact that it was a WWII staple, the inevitable reference to Monty Python’s classic sketch ridiculing the product, or even a possible acronym “Specially Processed American Meat”? I confess to actually liking SPAM. Eaten fried, with two eggs, or in a sandwich with some pickle or English mustard, it’s a treat. It’s even known as Hawaiian steak, given that island’s affinity with the product. There are other mockronyms such as "Something Posing As Meat", "Specially Processed Artificial Meat", "Stuff, Pork and Ham", and "Spare Parts Animal Meat"
According to the SPAM web-site you can now get regional SPAM products like Spam Hot & Spicy (with Tabasco for the Cajuns in Louisiana presumably), Spam Lite (California market?), Spam Oven Roasted Turkey, Hickory Smoked (backwoods of Alabama?), and Spam Spread. Who knew? Introduced in 1937, the name SPAM was chosen in a naming contest, with the Hormel Company citing it as a portmanteau word of “Spiced Meat and Ham”. And, to really get those creative cooking juices flowing, there is an Advanced Recipe search tab on the SPAM web-site. Yes, advanced recipes for SPAM!
There’s more, Hawaiian and Guam folk scarf down over 16 cans each year, and one popular dish in Hawaii is cooked SPAM combined with rice and nori seaweed. Spushi anyone? Slice, battered and deep-fried SPAM fritters came to fame during WWII in England. For some reason it was also a staple of my school dinners, which given it’s provenance as chopped pork and ham with no fillers and binders, makes me think that we were sold a bill of goods. After all it ain’t that cheap. Over in the Philippines it is commonly eaten with flied lice, or eggs for breakfast. And is even regarded a delicacy in Seoul, South Korea, and can be seen in store windows alongside imported European luxury goods such as wine, exotic mushrooms and Swiss chocolates. Quite understandable really; after all this is a nation that still woks the dog! And finally, a kosher variant of SPAM, known as Loof (a Hebrew distortion of meatloaf) is used in field rations of the Israeli Defense Forces. Interesting, if you take chopped ham and pork out of SPAM, what are you left with? I know I know, too much information.
SPAM was first l(a)unched onto the American market in 1937 when Jay Hormel added spices to the company’s existing canned ham range, to distinguish their product from its imitators. Some of whom even used head cuttings such as lips, snouts, and even ears. Using pork shoulder, the ham was added later; it was not an instant seller but was touted for its value and convenience.
Hormel supplied Allied troops with 15 million cans of SPAM per week throughout the war. World leaders such as Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher, and Nikita Khrushchev have all apparently credited the pink stuff for its effectiveness. SPAM, don’t leave home without it. What were they doing, throwing all those cans at the enemy? That’s a lot of SPAM. Or SpamALot, as the Broadway stage play would have it.
The primary ingredient is chopped pork shoulder meat mixed with ham, with some ham meat from the legs. The US Department of Agriculture does not permit any non-meat fillers in lunchmeat, nor does it allow pig snouts, lips, or ears. What a shame, I think a little crunch would add a certain…a certain intrigue to the mouth-feel. Oh a little crunchy bit, I wonder what that was? Pork shoulder meat is literally squeezed off the bone by powerful hydraulic presses, and the ham meat is actually hand-cut from the bone. So you see, real meat! The meat is then ground, the other ingrediments added, and the whole lot is cooked in vacuum mixers (to reduce the amount of gelatin produced).
Every Friday all executives involved in SPAM production meet to visually inspect, and even taste several batches of the weekly production. That must be fun! Just imagine the anticipation each week. Or not.