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Spam’s A Pop Icon Best Viewed From An Ironic Distance

Pink tender morsel,

Glistening with salty gel.

What the *#$% is it?

- Internet Spam haiku entry

Choking on my 20th forkload, I got a sudden taste of what life must be like on the O.J. Simpson jury.

Misery, misery everywhere. Not a drop of justice in sight.

O.J. jurors are lucky, though. They have only Judge Ito and a diet of gruesome double murder to digest.

Nobody makes them eat Spam.

In a foolish moment, I agreed to be Judge Eato at the Spokane Interstate Fair’s first Spam recipe contest.

It sounded funny. Details were sketchy.

Nothing was said about having to sample 45 entries ranging from a quivering, gelatinous Spam aspic to Spam soup to a crispy oatmeal Spam cobbler.

Spam as a dessert dish. Oh, the humanity.

“Your boss make you do this?” asked a red-haired spectator who clearly was enjoying my queasy predicament. “He shoulda supplied you with a stomach pump.”

The world holds two types of people:

Those who view Hormel’s pink processed pork product as serious food. Those who consider it serious comedy.

Count me among the latter.

To me, Spam is a pop culture icon like Elvis or “Star Trek.” The familiar blue and yellow cans are a national belly laugh, a tacky symbol of American grub at its low-rent, high-fat funniest.

It’s difficult to even say the word - Spam - without calling to mind the old Monty Python comedy routine where the Pythons sang, “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam….”

An Internet file devoted solely to Spam haiku had 103 snide poetic sentiments last time I checked.

Monogrammed Spam shirts, hats, jackets, slicers, tennis balls, towels, earrings and water sippers, etc., are cherished by legions of devotees who would never dare eat the stuff.

According to Hormel, the world’s 60 million Spam gobblers would make me eat my words. Some four cans a second, the company claims, are scarfed in the United States.

Some of those Spam lovers brought their favorite dishes to the fair hoping to win the first prize of $100, a Spam apron and a berth in the national Spam cook-off in January.

“I love the stuff,” one large woman told me. “Fix it all the time.”

And so the tasting began.

Spam pancakes. Spam hash. Spam goulash. Spam salads. Spam pizza. Spam enchiladas. Spam chili. Spam pate….

There was no salvation for my salivation.

Many recipes oozed with those old kitchen standbys: cream of mushroom soup, Velveeta cheese and chunks of canned pineapple.

Recipe contest? This was an unholy cross between a church potluck and the Bataan Death March.

When the ordeal finally slogged to an end, the three best cooks were crowned.

“I tried my best to get my entry not to taste like Spam,” says Terry Rathbun, who took the $50 second prize with Spam pot stickers. “The whole goal was to kill the smell.”

An endorsement the Hormel people are sure to trumpet in their next media blitz.

Terry admits she’s “into Spam” for its comic relief. She and her husband, Mark, pay extra to have the last four digits of their telephone number spell out Spam.

She came to the contest wearing a “Chef Hoover and the Spam-tones” T-shirt. Probably some alternative teen garage band.

Don Roybal, a professional chef, took third and $25 with his spicy “Candy Hot Spam” dish.

“My mom always made Spam,” says Don. “It was something she couldn’t mess up. She wasn’t a very good cook and I think that’s why I became a chef. I thought I could do better.”

Denise Hamilton captured the big banana with her “Spam Saute,” a tangy mix of veggies and that magic ingredient. “With five kids, it’s easy to fix and inexpensive,” she says. “We like it.”

Spam haiku No. 5:

Old man seeks doctor.

“I eat Spam daily,” he says.


, DataTimes

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