There was a time before unwanted e-mails, before Monty Python, when Spam stood for something. The story goes that the word was a contraction of "spiced ham." But the kind of wits who turn names into humorous acronyms (like Fixed Or Repaired Daily and Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious) probably didn't have much trouble coming up with: Something Posing As Meat.
Ah, Spam. Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam. First put into cans in 1937, it became a global phenomenon during the Second World War; lest we forget the sizable contribution to the war effort made by pigs. One hundred million pounds of Spam were sent to the Allied troops. It might have been more effective to have bombed Dusseldorf with it. Nevertheless, an army marches on its stomach and after months of eating nothing but Spam, soldiers were even more focused on liberating Paris, one of the gastronomic capitals of the world.
During the war years and immediately after, when Britain still had rationing, Spam became a meal-time staple. Reporting from London, famed journalist Edward R. Murrow said: "Although the Christmas table will not be lavish, there will be Spam for everyone." Oh, the horror.
Spam is a product of Hormel Foods Corporation, based in Austin, Minn. This operation has its origins in a company founded by George A. Hormel in 1891. It now sells in 41 countries, with the biggest consumers being the USA, the UK, and South Korea, in that order.
Hawaiians eat the lion's share of American sales: seven million cans a year, which works out to six cans per person. Spam musubi, a slice of Spam with fried rice and wrapped in seaweed, is a local, um, delicacy. The South Koreans do something similar, but also have another recipe that translates as "Army Base Stew." The Brits tend to dip slices of Spam in batter and fry them; et voilà, Spam fritters. By 2007, the worldwide tally of Spam sold stood at seven billion cans.
Austin is pretty much Spam Town. There's a Spam Museum, a restaurant across the street that sells Spam dishes (Johnny's Spamarama), and a carnival-known as Spam Jam-that coincides with the Fourth of July celebrations (there's also a springtime Spam Jam in Honolulu). The company even had Spammobiles, trucks that looked rather like large cans of Spam on wheels, up until 2008.
Kudos to Hormel for taking the high road in 1970, when Monty Python's famous Spam sketch was first aired...
Waitress in a greasy spoon (played by Terry Jones): There's egg and bacon, egg sausage and bacon, egg and Spam, egg bacon and Spam, egg bacon sausage and Spam, Spam bacon sausage and Spam, Spam egg Spam Spam bacon and Spam, Spam sausage Spam Spam bacon Spam tomato and Spam.
Customer (Graham Chapman, as a woman): I don't like Spam.
Going on at the same time is a choir of Vikings at another table, singing: "Spam, Spam, Spam..." in an operatic manner, gradually building to a crescendo. In three and a half minutes, Spam is mentioned at least 132 times.
When Python Eric Idle opened his Spamalot musical on Broadway, Hormel produced a limited-edition honey-flavored Spam. When the show opened in London, it was commemorated with a short run of "Stinky French Garlic" Spam.
Hormel has retained the services of lawyers to protect its reputation on other occasions, though. Such as when an evil pig-like character called Spa'am was featured in the 1996 film Muppet Treasure Island. The judge ruled in favor of the Muppets, who went on to create Spamela Hamderson for their Bay of Pigs Watch skit.
When referring to unsolicited e-mails, Hormel only asks that we refer to them with a lower-case S. The product's ubiquity, as parodied by the Pythons, led to the scourge of inboxes everywhere being called spam. But here's an odd bit of geeky synchronicity: Spam came out the same year as the first-ever science fiction convention.