A very few immutable icons remain unchanged and enduring in our ever-shifting, always moving lives. Nothing we wear, nothing we drive, nothing we depend upon for entertainment remains as it was in 1937 (excepting of course, the current condition of our economy) but there remains one faithful product that has accompanied us down the years, its singular personality so perfect that it has defied change and so powerful that it led its maker’s financial results upward last quarter, attracting the attention of a whole new generation. It’s called: Spam.
No, not the spam you’re familiar with; this is the unique canned meat that fed Americans through WWII meat shortages and fed punch lines to every comedian of the era. Ask any old soldier who remembers that war about Spam; he may not remember much, but he’ll remember Spam, I promise.
Hormel introduced Spam (SPiced hAM) in 1937; a cheap meat product canned in jelly for long shelf life and affordable during hard times of the Great Depression, with which it became identified. WWII was a time of meat shortages; the affordable and omnipresent little cans were seen in homes and military mess halls alike. And Spam had a unique taste, like nothing else in human experience. Some drowned it in ketchup to hide the –familiarity– of its flavor, or hid it under baked beans. It was good, but one could get too used to it and crave almost anything to break the routine; it became after while, boring.
But Hormels’ (also still with us) financial results from last quarter show the old standby has gained strange new respect; it’s leading, not tagging modestly along behind like Hormel folks undoubtedly wish; there’s no glamour in Spam. And yes, all that unwanted e-mail is called spam as an analogy for that old product that so many of us so gladly gave up as soon as Real Meat was restored to our butchers after the war. But only old folks remember that stuff now; Spam is a whole new experience for most. History coming alive, in fact.
With economic history coming all too alive in a replay of the 1930’s perhaps the resurgence of this cheap, homely little staple of the depression and war is fitting or even, prophetic. Look for articles and tips from hot chefs on flavoring and serving it…that’s what happened last time. But its’ flavor was not only unique; it was impossible to hide. I wonder if that’s still true? Maybe I’ll go buy just one little can and see…an appropriate sign of the times, too.