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Peggy Barnhardt: Diversity is a beautiful thing

Peggy Barnhardt

In coming to a new area there are the usual obvious cultural differences exposed and exploited by TV and other media. Informative as they may be, they fail to capture the cache of underlying fascinations. Conditions observed only by living and shopping among the people, local residents. One such anomaly is the preoccupation with certain foods, not unheard of delicacies like bat eyebrows, but foods curiously adopted geographically and relished by few persons in other places.

Just to describe one culinary wonder, we must pull up the dregs of poverty, when food was scarce, the depression was raging, perhaps during World War I — a time when canned rations were shipped to the servicemen. A time when nothing was wasted and all sustenance was utilized that provided even meager nutritional benefit. Yes, salt was in its heyday as a preservative, its connection with stroke or high blood pressure was met with a sardonic grin. It was the sole additive used to stabilize the parts and pieces, ground and compressed into this brick of meat composed of pig ears, snouts, lips and other less endearing leftover fragments of the boar’s anatomy, all surrounded by a gelatinous liquid, hitherto known as Spam.

Yes, I had seen cans of Spam on grocers’ shelves, very obtrusively placed for those receiving welfare vouchers or for those with limited income for purchase. At home its presence was announced by a sign stating “We accept whatever currency substitute then issued by our government for this product.” At times it was used as a trading tool by persons getting commodities from the system to get cash in order to buy toiletries, alcohol and paper goods. These items were unattainable with food stamps. Still, Spam was a last resort, as were pig’s feet, chicken feet, giblets, ox tails and parts of questionable origin, all relegated to a humble position. Garnished with pineapple slices and cloves like a ham shank, cut up in baked beans or camouflaged in soup de jour it served the purpose, was friendly to the intestines, so we ate it as kids do. We kept that a secret to escape the stigma hyped by our peers, “cheap meat ridicule.”

That era, long gone, now referred to as a “flash from the past,” had an ambiguous fond memory. It was a factor in growth and progress. Spam was a stepping stone to steak and potatoes, ribs and prime cuts. It was never to be revisited by us.
Computer geeks must have the same gilded view of Spam. They have adopted the word as a designation for unwanted, unsolicited messaging and have developed a containment for it, like a waste can.

Spam’s reputation as a mainstay in Hawaii was a total surprise to me. To see Spam so happily embraced was humorous, considering our thoughts of its value, on the same level as a “Pet Rock,” but its dressed-up demeanor with its seaweed coat and bed of rice gives it a look of salivary interest and curiosity. The fact that this much sought after snack (Spam Musibi) is sold everywhere, even in McDonald’s, is astounding. As a result of this vast acceptance, having taken on the characteristic of a parvenu, I have concluded: Diversity is a Beautiful Thing.

Spam Musibi recipes and pictures can be found on Google. Think about it.

Peggy Ann Barnhardt lives in Salisbury.

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