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Spam is cool.

The 85-year-old canned block of meat has undergone a cultural reinvention.

Hormel (HRL) sold record amounts of spam for the seventh consecutive year. The conglomerate behind Skippy and Jennie-O turkey says it can’t make Spam fast enough, so it ramps up production capacity.

Spam is a trending element on TikTok and on the menus of fine dining restaurants in coastal cities. In 2019, the limited edition Spam Pumpkin Spice flavor sold out in minutes. (You can buy them on Ebay for up to $100 per can.)

What is behind this phenomenon? Long stigmatized as fake meat, associated with wartime rations and hilariously masquerading as Monty Python, this slab of cooked pork is questioning why now. So do you have cachet among gourmets?

Spam’s popularity in Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Island cuisines has influenced Spam’s growth in the United States. As more immigrants came to the U.S. and fusion and ethnic cuisines became mainstream in the culture, Spam reached a new, young foodie, says Hormel.

Edgy and clever advertising campaigns have also helped spam attract a wider audience than baby boomers who grew up on spam.

Robert Ku, Associate Professor of Asian and Asian American Studies at Binghamton University and author of Dubious Gastronomy: Eating Asian in the USA, said: “Many celebrity chefs are Asian and Asian American, reintroducing Spam to a new audience.”

More than 100,000 visitors flock to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota each year to talk about spam and share recipes, said Savile Lord, manager of the museum in the brand’s hometown. increase. Visitors almost always ask her and her other museum, Spam Bassador, about where Spam got its name and what it contains.

The family peruses the history of spam at the Spam Museum.

Spam first hit store shelves in 1937 as a convenient, long-lasting protein in 12-ounce, 25-cent cans during the slump of the Great Depression. Spam contained only pork shoulder, chopped ham, water, sugar and sodium.

It was the concoction of Austin meatpacker George Hormel and his son, Jay. told The New Yorker in 1945.

They offered a $100 prize for the best name in the dish. It had to be short for display purposes and fit in a single column newspaper ad. I also needed to be able to pronounce it in any language.

Brothers who are business executives threw “Spam,” a combination of “spice” and “ham,” at a party.

From the beginning, Spam was marketed as a time-saving, food that goes with any meal: Spam and eggs. Spam and pancakes. Spam and beans, spaghetti, macaroni and crackers. spam witch.

A pie made in the 1950s or 1960s with Spam brand canned meat, potatoes, leeks and cream of mushroom soup.

“I never imagined that meat would turn into so many interesting uses. Morning, noon, night, cold or hot, Spam hits the spot!” Read one early ad please Spam is a “miracle meat,” the company told consumers in newspaper and radio ads.

And the US entry into World War II in 1941 was a defining moment in spam’s growth.

At many Pacific outposts with few refrigeration facilities or local sources of meat, American and Allied forces relied on canned meat that could be stored for months and eaten on the go. rice field.

Hormel said more than 100 million pounds of spam were shipped abroad during the war to help feed the army. Uncle Sam became known as Uncle Spam, discouraging his troops who were forced to eat it every day.

“During World War II, of course, I ate my share of spam with millions of other soldiers,” Dwight D. Eisenhower later wrote to Hormel’s president. “I confess to some unkind remarks about it – uttered during the tension of the battle.

But for citizens of conflict-torn Pacific nations, those who suffered starvation and famine during wartime and reconstruction, spam was a symbol of access to American goods and services. Sometimes it was the only source of protein available. Spam remained after the U.S. military left and became an ingredient in local cuisine.

“Spam has become part of Asian culture,” says Ayala Rubio, a consumer behavior researcher at Michigan State University who studies identity and consumption habits. “It represents a part of America. It’s like Coca-Cola or McDonald’s.”

Also, spam was introduced to South Korea by the US military during the Korean War in the early 1950s, and budae jjigae (army stew) became a popular Korean dish. Spam is also a common ingredient in almost every cuisine where the US military was stationed, such as Guam in the Philippines and Okinawa in Japan.

With a long U.S. military presence, Hawaii consumes more spam per capita than any other state. Spam musubi, which is layered on top of rice and wrapped in seaweed, is sold at fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s in Hawaii. There’s also the annual Waikiki Spam Jam Festival.

Many U.S. soldiers returning from World War II vowed never to eat spam again, and the brand has become associated with rationing and financial hardship. doing.

Spam musubi, a classic Japanese lunch dish originating in Hawaii.

“When I first started working with the brand, I started noticing that consumers were moving into a multicultural and powerful group,” says Brian Lillis, product brand manager for six years. said Mr. “They brought with them a tradition of using products in their home country and where their ancestors came from.”

Hormel has worked with chefs from restaurants in South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam to incorporate Spam into their menus. As more people are introduced to these dishes, they go home and try to make their own versions.

Spam emphasizes its versatility in social media and television advertising dishes. In addition to spam and eggs, there are advertisements for spam fried rice, spam musabi, yakitori, and poke.

Spam’s resurgence in the United States is due to Asian and Asian-American chefs like Chris Oh trying to reinvent spam in their own way, said Professor Koo of Binghamton University. “They took some Asian and Pacific culinary influences and gentrified it.”

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