The Mysterious Resurrection Of Spam, Glorious Spam

The Growing Popularity Of Spam

When I was young, growing up on Manning Street, money was tight. My dad, who attended Tufts on the GI Bill, was establishing his dental practice. My mother, who had been an Army nurse and subsequently worked at a Boston hospital, had elected to be a stay-at-home mom.

We shared a house at 12 Manning Street with another family, the Tompkins, who, in the early 50s, were also just getting started. Just up the street was the Perkins family. Also nearby were the Sullivans. In keeping with those baby-boom years, these were all growing families.

Tight money meant mealtime frugality. Wednesday was Prince spaghetti Day. Fridays brought whatever was on special at the Gloucester Seafood Mart on Central Street. The rest of the week was punctuated by casseroles, mac and cheese, or the occasional New England boiled dinner. Sunday evenings often brought a bowl of broken-up graham crackers swaddled in warm milk.

Lunch? There was PB&J, but also fluffernutters (featuring marshmallow fluff manufactured in Lynn), Cain’s sandwich spread (a kind of mayonnaise-and-pickle concoction of no known nutritional value), and peanut butter and pickles (a concept my mother brought to Ipswich from her native St. Louis). 

And then there was Spam.

My History With Spam

A relic of our dad’s Great Depression experience and both parents’ WWII Army service, this mysterious canned meat product would show up in various guises, but most frequently hot off the skillet. Memorably, it was sometimes substituted for bacon on Sunday mornings when we were treated to waffles. In those days, the waffles were slathered with margarine, not butter, and a brownish liquid with the innocent-sounding name “Vermont Maid” impostering as maple syrup.

Over time, as the family’s fortunes improved, our culinary fare evolved. Casseroles faded away, and Spam pretty much disappeared from the pantry.

Fast-forward to the 1990s. Having produced two offspring and recalling my own waffle delight, I purloined my mom’s waffle-maker. Electric, It had been a 1948 wedding present, heavy of weight but a bit light regarding safety (its cloth electric cord eventually burst into flames, nearly taking our home with it).

While we were not exactly rolling in the dough, I insisted on real butter instead of margarine and real maple syrup. But, in a homage to bygone days, I began substituting Spam for our customary pea-meal bacon.

Much as Proust found his blast-from-the-past moment by dipping a madeleine in his tea, that first bite brought me back to the cozy confines of our 12 Manning Street apartment.

The Spam Museum

When our son elected to attend Carleton College in Minnesota, this opened a whole new window into the Spamiverse. It turns out Spam is made by Hormel, which has its head office and production facility in Austin, Minn. There, we discovered a fabulous Spam Museum extolling all things Spam and featuring Monty Python’s musical ode to the product and country-by-country exhibits of those many places where the product is a best-seller. We visited more than once.

spam
Collector Spam can (with real Spam in it) specially made for the Monty Python’s Spamalot musical. Image by Jalb via Flickr.

All of this comes to mind because Hormel recently announced their annual financial results… and reported soaring earnings — led by record Spam sales.

I was astounded. We are living in an age of rampant veganism, scolding nutritionists, and a growing population who eschew pork for religious reasons. But the stats are there: seven straight quarters of sales growth, so much that Hormel is adding an entirely new production line.

So what’s going on? Are people preparing for the zombie apocalypse? Or perhaps it is a sign of tough times, much like the early 1950s were for returning GIs and their families? (Economists say no, as, due to various support programs, they claim there is more money in people’s pockets than pre-pandemic).

Perhaps it is just nostalgia by folks like me, or a yearning for “comfort” food by all.

Whatever it is, Spam is currently flying off the shelves faster than toilet paper or bleach. And while it might not be the healthiest source of protein in the world, Spam does bring back glorious memories of Manning Street back when times were tough… but families were close.

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About The Author
Robert Waite
Robert Waite
Robert is Managing Director at Waite + Co., a communications firm with offices in Boston, Ottawa and Toronto. He also teaches at Seneca College. He has more than 35 years experience leading communications, marketing and government relations functions for some of North America’s largest firms, including Ford, IBM, CAE, CIBC and Canada Post. He served as Press Secretary to Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-MA) and Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) and in the Reagan Administration. He is a three-time winner of the New England Press Association’s Best Column Award. He can be reached at [email protected].
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