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Picks and Pans Review: Spam: a Biography

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by Carolyn Wyman

Even if you’ve never tasted it, you know that the mere mention of Spam—a mixture of pork shoulder and ham—makes some Americans shudder and others rhapsodize. Launched by the Hormel company in 1937, Spam has long been a staple of popular culture, first as a sponsor of Burns and Allen’s radio show, then as a fixture of World War II mess halls, where it gained its bad rep (due to later government substitution of an inferior tinned meat product that was overfed to GIs). Syndicated newspaper columnist Carolyn Wyman’s witty, extensively illustrated overview playfully mixes Spam’s history with examples of its use and abuse (as material for sculpture, playing cards, cyberbowling pins and as fodder for a notorious Monty Python skit). Although it remains popular in Polynesia, Hawaii and the South, Spam has a campy quality that helps explain why the name has been adopted as a term for electronic junk mail and provides Wyman’s juiciest tidbits. For example, Spam is essential to Do-Spam-Key, the martial art of breaking Spam slices against your forehead, and it has even inspired haiku: “Man wearing white shirt/ Drops meat, causing greasy stain;/ Cries, ‘Out, out, Spam dot!’ ” (Harcourt Brace, $15)

Bottom Line: Unexpectedly tasty dish