Life is better, and maybe shorter, with Spam

Lucky we live Hawaii?

Well, sort of.

“Oh, you’re so lucky you live in Hawaii,” is the first thing people say as soon as they find out you live in “paradise.”

If they’ve been here before, they’ll rave about how beautiful they remember it being and how much they long to return.

If they’ve never been here, they’ll tell you their fondest dream is to see it for themselves someday.

But inevitably, someone will ask about the problems and issues we face every day:

“Is Hawaii’s famous aloha spirit disappearing or is it still alive and well?” they wonder. “

Are traffic and food prices as bad as we’ve heard?”

“And what about the cost of real estate?”

Difficult questions with not-so-easy and not-always-pleasant answers.

And just when you think it can’t get worse, it does.

Some wise, uh, soul just has to ask the most humiliating question of all: “Is it true Hawaii residents eat more Spam than any other state in the country?

And you cringe and have to admit very reluctantly, “Yes. We do.”

Actually, five million pounds or seven million cans (six per person) every year, sources say.

And you ask yourself for the zillionth time: “Why?”

According to its official website, the first cans of “canned ham” as Spam (registered name Spam®) was described were developed 90 years ago (1926) by the Geo. H. Hormel Co. (Some sources say it was actually 1937.)

Since then, more than eight billion cans of the “pink meat” have been sold in 44 countries around the world, according to the website.

Over 100 million pounds of Spam products were shipped overseas to feed troops during World War II. (Reportedly, many hated it) And this is what some folks say started Hawaii down the Spam path. So many pounds ended up in Hawaii, where numerous troops were stationed, they eventually were sold in stores to residents.

The meat, which is maligned and ridiculed by many mainlanders, is regarded much more highly in Hawaii. Its versatility appealed to our diverse ethnic mix who quickly adapted and incorporated it into their own dishes.

The original Spam (now called Spam Classic must be a nutritionist’s and doctor’s worst nightmare: One can supposedly contains six servings. Each serving includes 25 percent of the U.S. recommended daily fat intake and 33 percent of a day’s sodium. And who eats only one serving?)

Perhaps because of this, over the years Hormel developed a lite version and then a sodium-free version. Actually, there are now more than 15 varieties manufactured. Some are available only in Hawaii, such as the Portuguese sausage (supposedly good) and teriyaki (supposedly not so good).

How does Hawaii use up to 7 million cans every year? Tons of ways. Fried rice in Hawaii simply isn’t fried rice unless diced Spam, chopped green onions, eggs and shoyu are tossed together with the rice in a wok or frying pan.

We garnish our saimin with strips of Spam. Breakfast is often fried Spam and eggs.

McDonald’s included this on their menu in 2002, Burger King added it in 2007.

Fried Spam sandwiches slathered with mayonnaise may sound disgusting but are immensely popular. And we can’t forget Pineapple Spam (sliced Spam, placed in a baking pan and sprinkled lavishly with brown sugar, mustard and crushed pineapple and baked until ready. There’s even Spam wonton but don’t delete the Kintaro contact from your phone. There is simply no comparison.

I must admit I did my part to bring up Hawaii’s Spam totals in the early years of marriage and motherhood. The first thing I learned to cook for dinner was Spam with pineapple. Spam (or tuna) sandwiches were easy fixes to fill a work lunchbox or take on a day on the boat.

In those days so many years ago, a can of Spam cost just 49 cents, I cooked it a lot to feed my brood of four growing boys, so much so that Pineapple Spam became a family joke shared by my brothers who visited often and had to eat it all the time. (They still ask me to make it when they come to visit and I never know whether they really want it or are just pulling my chain.)

Kauai’s biggest Spam success story, however, has to be the Spam musubi. Barbara Funamura of Joni Hana fame is credited with its creation.

Within a year after her restaurant started serving it, Spam musubi had spread across Hawaii and could be found in almost every convenience store and many restaurants and snack bars. Reportedly, it is President Obama’s favorite lunch. Garage sales often include a selection of musubi for sale.

But you can’t get away from one fact: Spam will always be a nutritional nightmare. At some point in your life, your doctor will look at your vitals, shake his head and tell you it’s time to scrap the Spam (and the Vienna sausage, hot dogs and bologna) if you want to live a long and healthy life.

Shades of Spam withdrawal. How will you ever get along without Spam in your life on a daily basis?

The Spam website may be able to help. Their shop has hundreds of Spam themed items from hoodies to hats, costumes to caps, jackets to jerseys and everything in between. They even have a golf bag (which doesn’t look that bad and you can reassure your doctor that Spam is helping you get exercise. And for music lovers, there is always the Canjo, a banjo made out of a can.)

My personal “non-favorite” is the Pink Piggy lunch bag or backpack. I wouldn’t give it to my worst enemy. Well, maybe I would.

There is one piece of good news for Hawaii folks though. We are not the world’s biggest consumers of Spam. That title is firmly held by Guam, where statistics say residents allegedly eat 16 cans a year per person.

I suggest, though, that we don’t try to catch up; that we stay out of the race, and let them hang on to their record.

At the very least, we will make our doctor happy.

Aloha.

•••

Rita De Silva is a former editor of The Garden Island and a resident of Kapaa.

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