Spam. What is it? A question which has no doubt crossed the mind of anyone who has for the first time devoured the contents of a can of this most ubiquitous frankenfood. Spam sludged it’s way into an unsuspecting post war global consciousness (and stomach) with relative ease. It is one of a select group of consumer food products that has been absorbed into a multitude of local diets, transcending it’s role as a “Specially Processed American Meat”.
The story of Spam is an American one, but it’s origins are deeply entrenched in the front lines of the Napoleonic wars. “An army marches on it’s stomach” are words made famous by Napoleon Bonaparte, words that the French Emperor had difficulty fulfilling during his conquest of Europe. In 1795 Napoleon offered up 12,000 francs as reward to anyone who could devise a method of preserving food that would help keep the troops on the front line moving forward and fed.
In 1810 the challenge was taken up by a French confectioner by the name of Nicolas Appert. Appert’s method involved placing meat or vegetables in a glass jar, sealing the jar, wrapping the jar in canvas, and boiling the jar and it’s contents. This approach to food preservation revealed an extended shelf life of the jar’s contents, resulting from the natural juices which were generated during the boiling process. Appert’s method would later be refined by fellow countryman Pierre Durand, who replaced the use of a glass jar with a tin can, and modern food preservation and processing was born.
Over a century later this mystery meat in a can would gain popularity beyond it’s military uses and become available for civilian consumption. In 1936 the president of a Minnesota meat packer named Jay Hormel, went into the lab and created a monster. When Hormel emerged he had developed Hormel’s Spiced Ham (later contracted to Spam), by combining pork shoulder meat and ham, that was then combined with salts and water and ground down to form a pink amorphous substance. This was then dribbled into a can, sealed, and cooked using Appert’s process of preservation.
With the outbreak of World War II and the United States’ growing involvement in the conflict, Hormel who was initially opposed to the war, was reluctantly set to solidify Spam’s position as the go to food for soldiers in the field, and war torn civilians in Britain, Soviet Union, China, and numerous nations in the Pacific Rim. At the end of 1941 the United States had fully fledged commitments to the war efforts, mainly in response to a number of attacks by Japan on US military bases in the Pacific. By the end of 1945 with the war at a close, Spam was set to topple the tipping point and was welcomed as a mainstay of many Pacific Island meals.
As of 2009, Spam alongside other high fat canned meat products, has been included as a large contributing factor to health concerns currently facing nations in the Pacific. These health concerns are not simply limited to the smaller Pacific nations, with the United States, Australia, and New Zealand highly ranked on obesity and associated illness rankings.