Spam: A brief history as it turns 80

Spam: A brief history as it turns 80

Spam turns 80 years old Wednesday, having survived relentless mockery and its lack of nutritional value.

The combination of meat and other ingredients was the subject of a catchy commercial jingle and relentless mockery by the Monty Python comedy troupe in a famous sketch. But its ubiquity combined with its relative inexpensiveness has allowed the product to survive mostly unscathed.

Hormel Food Corp. introduced Spam July 5, 1937, and the product experienced something of a coming-out party during World War II. Unlike other meats at the time, spam could be preserved for days on end, making it one of the few meat products that could be sent easily to soldiers overseas.

Spam spread throughout territories in the Pacific Ocean — such as the Philippines — thanks to soldiers stationed there, and it remains popular in many of those places. Hawaiians are said to be particularly fond of Spam.

The processed meat was sold throughout England as the country recovered from the second world war and Britons remained reluctant to spend money — Margaret Thatcher once referred to the product as a “wartime delicacy” — and it was at one time so common that Monty Python filmed a sketch poking fun at it.

Servicemen and consumers were generally underwhelmed by spam, giving it snarky nicknames like “scientifically processed army meat.” But spam persevered and became a household name in the post-World War II era thanks to its long shelf life and affordability.

The product survived through the decades largely due to those qualities, and its sales often spike during times of economic hardship. In 2008, for example, CBS reported that sales of spam jumped 10 percent as Americans pinched pennies during the onset of the Great Recession.

Spam’s popularity has flummoxed nutritionists, who generally regard it as unhealthy thanks to its high sodium content.

Today, Spam is mostly a term of derision. Many readers likely associate the word with email messages that go directly into their junk folder.

But the product survives, and will likely continue to do so as long as it remains less expensive than other meat products.

source –

Patrick Cooley