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 Peter Takes on History 

May 3, 1979

Spam. spam, spam, SPAM (Luncheon Meat)

It’s an American success story with approximately 9 Billion cans sold since its introduction in 1937. 13 cans are consumed every second in 48 countries worldwide.
More than 100 million pounds of it was shipped abroad to feed the troops in WWII and Nikita Kruschev said the allies would not have won without it! Whether you believe the product name is short for “Special Army Meat” or simply short for “Spiced Ham” (as Hormel says), we all know I’m talking about SPAM.

Even today SPAM remains popular anywhere American GIs had a significant presence: Okinawa, South Korea, Vietnam and Japan. The Philippines, Guam and Hawaii have the highest per capita SPAM consumption in the world. The Brits still clear their grocer’s shelves of SPAM whenever threatened, most recently by COVID.

The recipe is simple. Just seven ingredients: ham hocks, pork shoulder, water, sugar, potato starch, salt and the ubiquitous preservative sodium nitrate. It is undeniably a processed meat, in the same category as hot dogs, bacon, salami and corned beef. It IS ALSO high in sodium and fat so it’s not health food, but it’s hard to find an article that says SPAM tastes bad. To most it’s comfort food. Some brave souls will admit out loud they like it, others will guard their hipster status by liking it ironically or even comedically.

In 1970 SPAM and comedy were tossed together in a crazy Monty Python salad at the Green Midget Café where the menu included Eggs and Spam - Eggs, bacon, and Spam - Eggs, bacon, sausage and Spam - Spam, eggs, Spam, Spam, bacon, Spam and SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, as the Vikings in the restaurant sing, louder and louder, forcing the proprietress to shout them down and shut them up! In the late 70’s Monty Python’s brash, absurdist comedy quickly became a favorite of nerds, dorks and a growing subset of geeks called computer programmers.

When they weren’t watching Monty Python skits on PBS, programmers were often involved in networking computers together into what would become the world wide web. It was crude at first, data mostly, and on-screen chats. But as the user numbers increased, the formerly exclusive web chat systems began to fill with people who’d say things computer experts found inappropriate or inane. Well, spam became the solution.

For a moment, imagine (or remember back) to when a CRT computer screen was black with glowing green letters. Back before scrolling even existed! If you were in a chat you could type a line of text then repeat it rapidly and ruthlessly, literally forcing unwanted comments off the screen and into the ether. The line of text that caught on was … SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM.

It wasn’t long before someone saw these active online chat sites as an opportunity to spread a commercial message. A marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corporation sent out an unsolicited advertisement for a computer demonstration. It was a breach of etiquette; other users spammed it away but, alas, the message itself took the name. On this day, May 3rd, 1979 the first SPAM message was sent and the gates of online hell were pried open. We all know what a nuisance and downright danger spam has become.

Hormel was never pleased with the association and began suing everyone but it was like chopping up starfish. Eventually they took a page from Oscar Wilde’s book, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Hormel mostly released on it, instead drawing up a set of guidelines to distinguish their product from online spam. They declared that when written the adjective SPAM had to be spelled in all caps and followed the word "Luncheon Meat."

To complete their surrender Hormel also became an underwriter of Monty Python’s 2005 Broadway production called “Spamalot." Going whole hog,Hormel created commemorative cans of SPAM and, in a cleverly written press release that declared, "SPAM is the holy grail of canned meats."

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