Bob Bestler

The Catch-22 that is Spam, Americans’ most unappreciated mystery meat

If you look up the meaning of “spam,” you will find two definitions.

One tells us spam is the “irreverent or inappropriate messages sent on the internet to a large number of recipients.”

In other words, spam is the worst part of the internet.

The second definition defines spam as “a canned meat product made mainly from pork.”

It is perhaps the latest insult against this canned food product, which has been mocked for years by Americans.

My guess is that the inventors of the internet could find nothing as worthless as a can of Spam. So why not use it as the name for worthless internet junk?

Never mind that it became a staple for GIs during World War II and the Korean War or that it remains a popular food in Hawaiian pantries. Spam also found its way into local dishes in Guam, Philippines, South Korea and Japan.

A recent Time magazine article said chefs from those Asian and Pacific Island countries are bringing their family Spam recipes into American restaurants.

One of those chefs, Ravi Kapur, co-owner of Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco, said he did not know Spam had a negative image until he left his hometown in Oahu, Hawaii. He has a Spam dish on his menu, but downplays it in true American fashion: “Is it my favorite dish on the menu? Absolutely not. Is it the most important tool in my tool kit? Absolutely not. It’s just one of the many things that remind me of where I came from.”

Spam has been around since 1937, produced by Hormel Foods in Austin, Minn., just 30 miles from my hometown; my high school baseball team played Austin on a field next to the Hormel plant and the odor was, uh, memorable — and not in a good way.

Still, I must confess that I have been partial to Spam, the so-called “poor man’s meal,” for a long time. Those little cans got me through a lot of college meals when I could not afford much else. A slice of Spam between two slices of bread, drowned in ketchup — a little bit of heaven for a starving student.

That was then, this is now.

I haven’t purchased a can of Spam for probably 50 years, but the other day I noticed Spam is no longer just “Spam.” There are almost a dozen variations, from Lite Spam to Jalapeno Spam to Oven Roasted Turkey Spam to Spam with Real Hormel Bacon.

Sure they all sound yummy, but I’m still betting they will never fully disguise the taste of Spam. Nor are they likely to impress nutritionists. There is this from Healthline website: “Although Spam is convenient, easy to use and has a long shelf life, it’s also very high in fat, calories and sodium and low in important ingredients, such as protein, vitamins and minerals . . . It’s highly processed and contains sodium nitrate which may cause several adverse health effects.’‘

Sounds like we’re looking at another 50 years. Sorry, Spam.

Contact Bob Bestler at