Spam: More than Junk Mail or Junk Meat

NPR.org, July 4, 2007

Spam, which turns 70 this year, has been called the Holy Grail of canned meats. Damning with faint praise? Not when you consider the source: Eric Idle, Monty Python alum and member of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Spamalot.

Monty Python’s legendary Spam sketch, which first aired on BBC television in 1970, turned this lowbrow luncheon meat into a kitschy cultural icon. It attained such cult status among Python’s geeky, computer-nerd fan base that Spam became synonymous with unwanted junk e-mails. (In the sketch, the word “Spam” is uttered 132 times, often repeatedly and to the chagrin of a couple trying to order breakfast.)

Kitschy or not, Spam is one of the longest-running anachronisms in the American cupboard. Created by Hormel Foods in 1937 and promoted as “the miracle meat,” it became K-ration fare for American GIs and Allied forces during World War II. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher referred to it as a “war-time delicacy” and former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev said it kept Russian troops alive against the Nazis.

But the meat that helped us win wars in the 20th century now feels dated and nearly extinct in the 21st. Finding a can of Spam in any modern kitchen would be like spotting the Loch Ness monster in your neighbor’s trout pond.What is that thing doing here?

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Father: "He never amounted to anything". Mother: "Who the hell does he think he is"? Former Teacher: "Smart as a bag of hammers". Former Boss: "Condescending". Brother: "Mom loves me more".
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