BOSTON — SPAM, the famed canned food that gourmets love to hate, just hit the 5 billion mark in the number of cans sold. That's a staggering 5 billion cans eaten worldwide since 1936, when the product first appeared on shelves.
The makers of Spam, the Hormel Company in Austin, Minn., are real hams about Spam's wham as a historical ham. ``The United States consumes 3.8 cans a second,'' says Hormel spokesman Alan Krejci, ``or 228 cans a minute.'' This is enough cans to circle the earth 12 and a half times. And it's an invitation to suggest that the cans are ``Spamming the globe.''
What is Spam? Pure shoulder pork mixed with spices and salt and packed into an aluminum can. Shelf life? Practically endless. ``A woman sent us a can that she said had been sitting in her cupboard for 30 years,'' Mr. Krejci says. ``She asked if it was any good. It was.''
There's even a ``Spam Lite'' these days to please nutrition-conscious gourmets like Kansas Republican Sen. Bob Dole, who says he eats Spam. Former President Eisenhower ate Spam along with millions of American soldiers during World War II. Ike wrote a letter to the Hormel Company saying, ``During World War II, I ate my share of Spam.... I'll even confess to a few unkind remarks about it, uttered during the strain of battle you understand.''
And one-time Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote in a book that it was Spam that saved the Russian Army from starving one winter during World War II.
Today, Spam is sold in 50 countries and manufactured at the rate of 435 cans a minute. In Korea, a can of Spam is considered a delicacy. ``If you are a visiting dignitary,'' Krejci says, ``you'll probably get a gift pack with a can of Spam in it.''
Hawaii and Alaska eat the most Spam, Krejci says, followed by Alabama, Texas, and Arkansas. ``The media interest in Spam has been phenomenal,'' he adds. ``We've done about 200 interviews.'' And you might have guessed it, Hormel now offers a ``Spam gift apparel catalogue'' with T-shirts, shorts, hats, water bottles, mugs, and sweatsuits.
Order something if you like, but don't be a pig about it.