Tuesday, January 23, 2007


My recent missive on the topic of Lunchbox Horrors inspired this lovely lady to respond with a horrorshow of her own, talking about
...a weird sandwich my mother used to make us for lunches way back in the day; those lunchbox wonders we lovingly referred to as “guck sandwiches.”
The Guck Sandwich, when one deconstructs the ingredients, is essentially a SPAM and Thousand Island Dressing sandwich with some onions thrown in. I’m not sure what horrifies me more: the SPAM, or the flabby white bread the concoction is supposed to be assembled with. But as they (whoever “they” are) say, “de gustibus non est disputandum,” which means something like “all of your taste is in your ass, but I’m all right, Jack.”

Just kidding. Heh.

SPAM, its unsavory Internet associations aside, is of no culinary interest to me whatso-fucking-ever. I rank it right up there with the Indiana Brain Sandwich, Head Cheese, and Scrapple in the List of Substances That Are Only Marginally More Appetizing To Me Than A Human Turd. [That’s very similar, by the way, to the List of Foods That I Would Be Reluctant To Eat Even After A Nuclear Holocaust When Alternatives Are Quite Thin On The Ground.] But people who grew up with it - why, they love it. It’s a great illustration of the power of childhood-based nostalgia to influence our tastes.

Its lack of culinary appeal (to me) notwithstanding, I am fascinated by the fact that SPAM is, apparently, extremely popular in the islands of the Pacific Ocean. When the Missus and I were in Hawai’i, we observed first-hand that SPAM was everywhere. If you ordered musubi, the ubiquitous rice-ball snack, you would, like as not, find wads of SPAM buried in ’em. Yeef.

And it’s not just Hawai’i. Apparently, SPAM is popular throughout the Pacific region, from Micronesia to Samoa to Tonga to Tahiti. Hell, even Fiona likes it, and she’s in Singapore.

There are those that see this as a relic of the U.S. presence during and following World War II...or the natural growth in market demand for a product that needs no refrigeration in places that have none. But there’s another, possibly more sinister explanation.

No other commercially available meat product is so good at replicating the taste of human flesh.

Yes, the folks on a lot of those Pacific islands have an ancient (in some cases, not so ancient) history of eating their brethren and sistren…and, purportedly, SPAM’s flavor taps into that ancestral memory.

Travel writer Paul Theroux, in his book The Happy Isles of Oceania, says:
It was a theory of mine that former cannibals of Oceania now feasted on Spam because Spam came the nearest to approximating the porky taste of human flesh. “Long pig” as they called a cooked human being in much of Melanesia. It was a fact that the people-eaters of the Pacific had all evolved, or perhaps degenerated, into Spam-eaters. And in the absence of Spam they settled for corned beef, which also had a corpsy flavor.
Of course, this theory has numerous holes in it, one being SPAM’s popularity even in places that have no historical tradition of cannibalism. And even Paul Theroux later confessed that he had written the above paragraph with (you should excuse the expression) tongue in cheek.

And yet, I wonder.

I wonder why I like corned beef so much. And I wonder whether Jeffrey Dahmer was a fan of the Reuben sandwich.

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