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Today’s Back Story

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July 5, 2018

New York Times

SPAM — the canned meat, not the unwanted email — might deserve more respect.

On this day in 1937, the U.S. company Hormel introduced the mix of pork shoulder and ham whose name is derived from “spiced ham.” (No, it doesn’t stand for “Something Posing As Meat.”) Since then, SPAM has been a muse for poets, comedians and chefs, and helped win World War II.

The Times’s obituary for Jay Hormel, SPAM’s creator, said he was the first to successfully can ham. Cooking the meat inside the can produced a natural gelatin, increased shelf life and made it useful in battle. President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a letter praising SPAM, and the former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev said his country couldn’t have fed its troops without it.

Hawaii embraced SPAM during the war, too, and the love affair never ceased. The state consumes the most in America, at about seven million cans per year, which is five cans per person. It is sold in more than 40 countries around the world, including Japan, the Philippines and Australia.

“In all of its high-sodium, gravy-drenched glory, SPAM has, in every sense, found its way into my heart,” the chef Anthony Bourdain, who died last month, said during a visit to Hawaii with his show “No Reservations.” “I get it now. I feel inducted into the Church of True Knowledge.”