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The Incredible Story Of SPAM

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 23, 2022 3:00 am

The Incredible Story Of SPAM

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 23, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Author of The Book of Spam: A Most Glorious and Definitive Compendium of the World’s Favorite Canned Meat, Dustin Black, tells the story of this often speculated household name product.

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It's Dramos. You may know me from the recap on LATV. Now I've got my own podcast, Life as a Gringo, coming to you every Tuesday and Thursday.

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Send them to ouramericanstories.com. They're some of our favorites. Dustin Black is a group creative director for an ad agency in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2007, he published The Book of Spam, a most glorious and definitive compendium of the world's favorite canned meat. It was a collaboration with his advertising partner at the time, Dan Armstrong, when they worked for Hormel as advertisers.

Shortly after the book was published, it was internationally recognized and distributed. Here is Dustin Black with the story of Spam. Right off the bat, it was a lot interesting.

You'd be going to work and you'd pull over and call a Korean radio show or something like that to talk about it. You know, what's great about Spam, and I think why it had the appeal is it's got that, it's been around for forever. And everybody has a story about it. Like there's very, there's nobody in the world that you can't sort of like spark up a conversation around Spam.

You know, any corner of the globe, there's an experience with it. I was on production with Tim Gunn a couple of years ago, and he and I bonded over Spam stories growing up because that was part of his like heritage. And I mean, Spam is fascinating. And I think that what Hormel maybe doesn't even get as much credit for as they should is sort of revolutionizing the meat process or the meat packing process.

Spam itself is a result of, you know, 100 years of technology of trying to preserve meat to get it shelf stable for longer periods of time. And strangely enough, like Napoleon, when he was moving his armies, was really fascinated with how do I feed these these armies through really cold Russian winters and keep them fed and they're getting tired of salted and dried out food. So he started playing around with some of his scientists, I guess you can call them, with packing meat in glass jars and putting fat on top of it. And they would boil it for an hour.

And that boiling was basically an early version of pasteurization. And from there, it went to cans, metal, thick metal cans. And it got to the point where the cans were larger and heavier than the meat itself. And so it wasn't very easy to transport. It was very difficult to open. There are stories of the war when they would use their guns and muskets to shoot open the cans. And there was a lot of problems back then because they would they would make the cans too big. And so they couldn't cook the middle. So there was botulism and there was problems with, you know, spoiled middle and the outside was good. And so eventually through sort of, I don't know, his brilliance, Hormel, he came back during World War Two and said basically like we put it in this smaller size, cook it for three hours.

You get a you get a top that you can open. It's a way of preserving the meat of pasteurization that keeps it shelf stable. And that was really like revolutionary and kind of in 1937 was the start of this sort of processed meat. And for him, too, it was at the time like in World War One and when he was serving in World War One, they were shipping meat with bone in it. They would ship the cow or they'd ship the pork and it would have bones in it. That's not very efficient for weight.

It's not very efficient because there's a lot of scrap pieces left over. So he said, look, if we take the bones out, if we grind it up, we put it in a smaller can, we pasteurize it, it'll ship. And in 1937, that was kind of the start of Spam was born. So what was fascinating in 1937, then he helped revolutionize World War Two was just on the verge of starting up. It was kind of Spam was sprinkling in.

It wasn't as ubiquitous as it is today or it wasn't quite as popular. But quickly, you know, the military recognized the advantage of it. And so they started shipping it to all the military overseas.

And what's fascinating is that I think that's kind of where the reputation of Spam started and was solidified. You had people on these bases in Guam and around the world and they're getting fed Spam constantly because it was kind of such an easy food to send. But also what happened is the government had them overcook it essentially for safety. Like they wanted instead of just cooking it for three hours, they cook it for five and that kind of mush the meat. So they're getting fed this lesser quality processed meat around the world. And then because the idea and because during the war they needed as much protein sent over as possible, other manufacturers were doing it in sizes that weren't as reliable.

So you'd get 12 pound sizes and six pound sizes and that flexing up of different quality standards and of different processing and of different cooking. You kind of ended up with a perfect storm of these soldiers that that were stationed around the world getting overfed, something they were tired of eating, getting mixed quality, getting bad quality. And then, you know, in a perfect marketing storm, then they were all sent home to spread the word. And so that's how we ended up with Spam so popular in Guam and Spam so popular in Hawaii. But also, I think what started the bad name and reputation for Spam was because it was such a mixed bag. And so, you know, here we are 80 years later and it still kind of has that reputation of being something that's like weird or strange animal parts or gross, which is which is really interesting and unfortunate because at the end of the day, Spam is actually a really good cuts of meat. Like it's really just ham, pork shoulder, salt water and a little sodium nitrate and sodium nitrates found in any processed meat just keeps it safe. But it's the better cuts of meat that the byproducts that you don't use go into hot dogs and sausages. Like that's the real like if you eat a hot dog or a sausage, you should really have no problem with Spam because it's actually better cuts in quality of meat. And for years, it got the reputation of like the gel.

Right. Like that's one of the first things people a little bit less less so now. But like people are always like, oh, it's got the gross gel on the outside and it makes that funny noise. And what's interesting is that was actually that's pure protein.

That's actually not that bad for you. And it's a byproduct of the cooking process. Protein goes towards heat. If you're pasteurizing meat in a can, the heat draws the protein out.

It stays there. But then people open it up and it looks gross and looks like petroleum jelly or whatever. So back in 2001, they ground up a little bit of potato starch, stuck that in there. The potato starch traps the protein and you don't have any gel anymore.

So since 2001, it got rid of the gel, which has helped with the reputation of it. And you're listening to Dustin Black tell the story of Spam. And I'm a big hot dog lover.

I also love liverwurst and bologna. So, of course, I can eat Spam when we come back. More of the incredible story of Spam with someone who knows a lot about it and wrote the book of Spam. We continue with Dustin Black's story about this inimitable American product here on Our American Story. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of seventeen dollars and seventy six cents is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American stories dot com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.

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That's betterhelp.com slash black effect. And we return to our American stories and the story of Spam. Yes, the canned meat. We've been listening to Dustin Black, author of The Book of Spam, a most glorious and definitive compendium of the world's favorite canned meat.

And he's telling the story of the creation of Spam. During World War Two, Hormel realized that there was a great need for shelf-stable meats to be sent to our troops, and thus Spam was created. We left off with Dustin talking about people's hesitation with buying the canned meat product.

Let's return to Dustin Black. But I still think people have trouble thinking about buying meat off a shelf, but, you know, it's a state of mind because there's so many, you know, cans of soup, you know, have meat in it. And, you know, there's plenty of examples of shelf-stable, and it all just goes back to that pasteurization, back to that idea of, you know, 200, 300-year-old technology of if you cook it and kill everything and don't let any air and bacteria in there, it's shelf-stable for a long amount of time. And Hormel's actually continued, and I think they don't get the credit they deserve for, you know, revolutionizing a lot of the packaging processes they do. A lot of their lunch meats are now high-pressure pasteurized, and that kills, it basically squishes all the bad stuff in there.

And so it can be all-natural without having to add a lot of the extra preservatives, but they do it through a pressure and a technology, you know, like just shelf technology, which is really interesting. The book, we go through a lot of different chapters of how it's made, the origins of Spam, the origins of processed meat. It goes through the Spam Museum, it goes through the Spam Mobile that used to travel around the country giving out samples. But throughout there, we weave in a lot of photos from people that get sent in to Hormel. That was one of the more interesting parts about working on the ads is we had access to their archive and to the people down there that were getting the fan mail. And, you know, you would have people that would send in the fan art, they would make costumes out of Spam cans, they would do weddings with a Spam-themed, you know, cake.

From around the world, you get people that would send in, you know, just their rooms that are painted like Spam or their car is Spam painted. And it's just, you know, it's had such, for such a long time, a devoted fan base. And whether you love or hate Spam, you know, you kind of have a story or you kind of know about it and have an affinity. You know, it's a brand that I think you sort of have to unabashedly love. You know, I know that there's a bit of a stigma out there with it. So if you're a Spam fan and you're proud to wear a shirt, you sort of take that as a, you know, a badge of honor that you're someone that thinks differently. You're someone that is not scared to go against the grain.

And, you know, you have your taste and you're not scared to share it. You know, in Korea, it for a while was used as a wedding gift. It was an acceptable wedding gift because it was sort of something of such great esteem and honor. It's that universal sort of story device that I think was most interesting. You know, for years with the advertising, we had the tagline, we did crazy tasty.

It's not around anymore, but I really loved it when we did it because it was all, to me, it walked that line. Someone who loves it thinks, yeah, it is crazy tasty. Like I really, you know, I can put it in between two slices of bread.

I can cook it with eggs or put it, you know, in my Spam sushi. And it's amazing. It's tasty. And then the people that didn't like it or didn't get it kind of related to the crazy part. It's crazy tasty. And the crazy was like, I don't get it, but it's kind of fun and it's weird.

And I see people, you know, wear a shirt and I can strike up a conversation. So we kind of walk the line with that. But at the end of the day, like it's, you know, when it's prepared and cooked properly, like it's really good. And I think we're starting to see a resurgence of that. There's a lot of fancy restaurants that are using it as an addition to, you know, a protein option. And, you know, we've seen food trucks pop up with it. It kind of has a bit of a resurgence in that sort of way that like PBR has a resurgence.

You know, it's that nostalgic sort of brand that people love and kind of has a familiarity to them. So, yeah, you can see a lot of menus. And you look at like French cuisine. You go to a really fancy French restaurant and you're going to get served pork roulette. But essentially, it's a fancy French version of Spam. It's the same thing.

They grind it up, you know, they put it into a can or, you know, often into a dish, cook it, slice it and serve it. And it's exactly what Spam is. It's just, you know, not pasteurized for as long. It's a classic brand that's been around for 80, 90 years.

And it's gone through all the same phases that advertising has gone through. So it came back, was, you know, the sort of solution to dinnertime problems. So for a really long time, that was the sort of like, let me show you different ways to cook it.

Let me give you recipe ideas. You know, I love the classic 60s casserole recipes and things like that where it's like Spam jello and, you know, just things that like probably shouldn't have ever seen the light of day. So it went through that phase. You know, they did, you know, some soap opera and sort of that like detergent soap sort of like sponsorships. And in the 80s, it was all about, you know, helping solve dinner.

You know, what are we going to have for dinner tonight? It's a Spam night. And they went then through a phase of the sort of Spam lot where they kind of leaned into the can nature of it, where they had that little character that kind of popped up. He was on the cans and he gave you recipe ideas and told you to, you know, don't forget Spam. Pre-2001, there was a lot of hacks or sort of urban wives tales around like what to do with the gel. So use it on a squeaky hinge. You know, you could use it to buff a table, like all sorts of things like that. You know, and then I think there's a whole culture and art around the cans. You know, they're these nice little tin cans. You can use them for painting or pot, you know, put some flowers in them or something like that. And so there's kind of a whole art collective around what happens with the cans.

And now from what I see, they're in kind of a classic mode. It's been through all the phases of food advertising from, you know, weird ads. You probably shouldn't have seen the light of day to sponsorships to, you know, thousands of products you can buy today with, you know, if you need Spam key chains or Spam flip flops, you know, they got you covered. I mean, because everybody's got a connection to it.

Like you would get on the phone with someone in Korea and they would talk about, you know, getting it as a wedding gift or you get on the phone and they talk about making it as a kid or, you know, how much they loved eating it in college. And it's one of those brands that just sparks, you know, it. And I think it's because of its lore in pop culture right back in the 70s when Monty Python did the Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam. Like that continued to ratchet up the lore. And it, you know, now we call, you know, email junk email spam email.

And that kind of comes a little bit off of the Monty Python. And Jim Henson had a spammy character in some of the movies and saw Spam a lot. Eric Idle came out with the version of the Holy Grail that went to Broadway, which was brilliant. It was a lot of fun, but he recognized the value of the Spam brand. And at the time, you know, Hormel recognized value in branded content. They partnered with Eric Idle and they had Spam a lot and it toured the globe and was very, very successful and a lot of fun. For years, they had the Spam mobile that toured, you know, they gave out, I think 1.7 million samples in 2007 or something like that.

And there's five of them and they would go around and you get lines two blocks long and people could get a little sample of Spam. Because it's one of those things that like if it's cooked properly, it's really good. Like you don't take hamburger and just like, hey, let me cook hamburger and just give you a spoonful of hamburger. Like that would be weird. But like that's what people often think about or do with Spam. They're like, here, put a fork in it and try it.

It's like, no, it's not right. Like grill it. You're going to get the Juilliard effect and get some nice caramelization and you're going to put it between two buns or put it between two slices of bread.

And it's really good. You know, you put it with some pineapple and rice and it's really tasty. You put it with some mashed potatoes. Like, you know, you just have to prepare it properly. And I think that's why we're seeing a resurgence in food trucks and in some sort of boutique sort of restaurants. Because the chefs realize it's, you know, it's easy. They can get a lot of it and store it and have it ready right there.

But you grill it up or cook it properly and it makes the dish really tasty. I mean, next time you're in the store, pick up, you know, a 12-ounce can. Or, you know, they do singles now with three-ounce, which is a little bit easier to get into.

You don't have to, you know, have the commitment of a 12-ounce can. And you can get a little slice. And try it. Like, you know, put it, grill it up, put it between two pieces of bread or, you know, put it with some buns and some American cheese. And have yourself a tasty little sandwich. Because, you know, it's, you either had it, you know it's good, or you were scared of it.

And you get over it and try it. And great job on that piece, as always, by Faith. And a special thanks to Dustin Black.

The story of Spam, here on Our American Story. The Kid Laroi. AJR. And more. The biggest holiday party of the year. Jingle Ball!

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