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Editor: Ann E. Larabee

Michigan State University Department of English

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Email: tjpc@msu.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPAM in the NEWS

I was delighted to see George H. Lewis’s essay, “From Minnesota Fat to Seoul Food: Spam in American and the Pacific Rim” (JPC 34.2) cited in the New York Times (Jan. 26, 2014) recently.  In this vastly entertaining article about the globalization of an iconic American food, George sets out to answer these questions:

So how is it that this lowly blue and yellow tin of pressed pork product has become such a cultural lightning rod of attention? And, more interestingly, why is the attention paid it so diverse in nature? What is it that connects Spam so visibly as a valued marker of power and social class to, particularly, peoples of the Pacific Rim? And why does their generally positive valuation of this particular foodstuff differ so vastly from that of most mainland Americans, who are more likely to feel embarrassed, or even perhaps a bit ashamed publicly to admit consuming, much less enjoying, this product?

The Times article picked up on George’s discussion of the high status of Hormel’s Spam in Korea, where it is highly valued as a comfort food and a classy holiday gift.  Like many acquired tastes for American culture in Asia, it was introduced by the American military presence. I can attest to the popularity of Spam in Okinawa as well. When I was in Japan for a Fulbright year, I was taken to an Okinawan nightclub in Tokyo where a friend’s band was belting out California sixties-style political rock about the devastation of the atomic bomb with the now obligatory critique of the Fukushima crisis.  It was a tiny place, packed with swaying, long-haired hipsters in colorful clothing.  The Okinawan owners were dancing along with everyone in a near hypnotic state.  The delicious house specialty?  Okinawan fried rice with bitter melon and Spam.  Thanks to George for giving insight into the ambiguous meanings of Spam at home and abroad.