Like it or not, Spam still sign of time

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 26, 2002

The Natchez Democrat

After all these years, just hearing the word &uot;spam&uot; is an invitation to laugh &045;&045; if you know something about Spam, that is.

Today, more people probably think of trash coming to e-mail addresses unsolicited, big chunks of unwanted materials that slow down the arrival of other e-mail messages.

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The real Spam, laugh or not, has in fact been a hugely successful product for the Hormel Company since it was introduced about 65 years ago. Conveniently packaged, it was a natural for feeding GIs during World War II. Tens of millions of pounds were shipped to soldiers overseas. Army food and Spam became near synonymous.

In fact, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said to Hormel’s president years later that he had eaten plenty of Spam himself during the war and had make jokes about it, too.

George Burns and Gracie Allen were hired to promote Spam on their radio show in 1940, and the canned meat had gained such a reputation by Christmas Eve in 1942 that Edward R. Murrow, the famous news correspondent, broadcast from London, &uot;Although the Christmas table will not be lavish, there will be Spam for everyone.&uot;

Through the years, comedians like Bob Hope and, more recently, David Letterman, have joked mercilessly about Spam. Hormel has smiled through it all, with company officials pointing out that Spam now is produced in seven foreign countries and that here in our own country we consume more than 100 million cans of it a year.

Yet even Spam (the name is from &uot;spiced ham&uot;) has fallen victim to the health and nutrition movement. The canned meat continues to be packaged in the familiar blue and yellow can, but now you might see an extra label or banner that touts its &uot;lighter&uot; content.

Nutritionists warn us to avoid too much salt and sugar. Drink only skim milk. Eat eggs rarely. Dine on chicken or fish five days a week.

Spam’s improved content symbolizes what has become of us. Don’t we wish for the days when there always was real whipped cream on the strawberries and ham cooked in the greens?

The Army, great first promoter of Spam, also has joined the health and nutrition movement, of course. Army food has had a bad reputation from as far back as the troops of George Washington himself. And here is an example of a dish some Army cooks prepared for the troops in the early 1900s:

Boil two quarts of beef stock, two quarts of water and one ounce of salt. Add two pounds of cornmeal. Simmer until it falls easily from a paddle. Fry until brown. It’s called fried mush.

&uot;Nouvelle cuisine&uot; now reigns among Army menus. Butter has been banned. Once fried foods now are braised or baked. Chicken is cooked without the skin. A heavy hand with the salt shaker is strictly against the regulations.

Still, the men and women who eat the new healthier foods aren’t always crazy about them. Many military diners are said to be scraping the Chicken Marengo and unbuttered potatoes off their plates and going out for pizza.

Recently, as I was about to bite into a big piece of sharp cheddar cheese, my husband warned, &uot;You know, you really ought not to eat that stuff.&uot;

Guiltily, I ate the cheese anyway and promised that soon I would give it up. I couldn’t help thinking, however, that I might as well join the Army &045;&045; or stock up on new Spam.

Joan Gandy is community editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3549 or by e-mail to