Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Ugly Truth About SPAM

SPAM, made by Hormel Foods, was first put on the American market in the late 1930s. As a low-cost substitute for fresh meat, as well as a long shelf life, it seems perfect for low income families.

Genetically speaking, humans are hardwired to like salt, sugar and fat. As such things are actually rare in nature, but neccessary for survival, humans will consume them in large quantities when they are available. This is a leftover instinct from our days as nomadic hunter-gatherers. As with the concept of Original Sin, you can blame this one on your ancestors.

SPAM is firmly entrenched as a "local" food here in Hawaii. People eat it at all times of the day or night. I've seen people eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the same day. Not to miss an opportunity to make some easy cash, Hormel Foods markets different flavors of SPAM for our consumption. These include: SPAM with cheese, SPAM with bacon, Hickory Smoked and others, as well as the low-salt variety.

In every convenience store, you'll see SPAM musubi on the shelves, along with the cheap burgers and hot dogs. Cans of SPAM fill grocery shelves, where they sell at a lower cost than any other meat, canned, packaged or fresh.

Yes, SPAM is everywhere.

But, is that a good thing?

In Hawaii, it is well-known that Hawaiians have a disproportionate amount of heart-related illnesses, diabetes and other life-threatening ailments, not to mention obesity problems.

While the root causes of these problems are many and varied, SPAM and its popularity in Hawaii only make the problem worse. With its secure place on the dinner tables in many homes in Hawaii, whether in Hawaiian or non-Hawaiian households, SPAM does nothing positive for you from a nutritional perspective and many negative things to your overall health.

Typically, SPAM Classic comes in 12 ounce cans and the label says that a single serving is two ounces. So, you've got six servings in that can.

With me so far? Okay.

According to Hormel Foods' own label on the can, each two ounce serving contains 174 calories, 137 of which comes from fat.

When you see how much of your Daily Value (DV) is provided in each two ounce slice, the numbers could actually stop your heart. Since much of the nutritional data is given in grams, understand that 2 ounces is equal to 56 grams. The DV is how much of it you require each day as part of your diet.

  • Fat: 15g  (23 % DV)
  • Saturated Fat: 6g  (28% DV)
  • Cholesterol: 39mg (13% DV)
  • Sodium: 767mg (32% DV)

So, those two slices of SPAM you had for breakfast, by themselves, gave you 46% of the fat, 56% of the saturated fat, 26% of the cholesterol and 64% of the sodium you need just for that day. We're not even including the SPAM musubi you might have at lunch or on your way home from work.

That two ounce slice of SPAM gives you only 7g of the protein, 1% of the calcium and Vitamin A and 3% of the iron you need. You'd have thought that a meat product would give you more protein than that, but SPAM is basically salt, fat and cholesterol in a can.

Certainly, Hormen Foods likes to tout itself as a customer-friendly business and SPAM is a good - even fun - product to include in your daily diet. Their website even has a Shop section where you can buy souvenir SPAM logo jackets, mugs, hats, etc.

But, another side of Hormel Foods isn't so friendly: in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), David Khorram, MD, a reporter for the Saipan Tribune.wrote an article on the ill effects related to the over-consupmtion of SPAM and Hormel Foods pressured the newspaper to remove the word "SPAM" from the article and replace it with "processed meat". Dr Khorram, who actually went to the hospital with severe abdominal pain after eating SPAM one day, posted this in response to Hormel's strongarm tactics.

Sales of SPAM are steady in the poorer communities of this country and sales are peaking in the bad economy as Americans struggle to save money while putting something resembling meat on the table.  Personally, I don't eat SPAM anymore. I tried it a few months ago after years of not even tasting it. I suffered some stomach problems afterwards, though not nearly as bad as Dr Khorram's. I haven't eaten SPAM since that day, no matter how poor or hungry I was at the time. I guess SPAM is something that people need to accustom themselves to eating regularly. Kind of like smoking cigarettes, isn't it?

SPAM certainly does have the PR high ground, though. There are SPAM festivals and parades, people write songs about it and Hormel is making big bucks while shoveling-out this crap.

I'm Hawaiian and I am proud to be Hawaiian. I love my people and it breaks my heart to know that many of us are eating ourselves into an early grave and that there is little I can do to stop it, aside from posting this blog entry.

If you're still looking for a cheap canned meat product, I suggest you try TREET, made by Armour Star  instead. I will grant that it's a tough call between TREET and SPAM, both having an advantage over the other in certain areas.

Here's TREET's info:
  • Calories 150
  • Calories from Fat 110
  • Fat: 12g (18 % DV) 
  • Saturated Fat: 2.5g (18% DV) 
  • Cholesterol: 50mg (17% DV) 
  • Sodium: 790mg (33% DV)
There's 6g of protein in a slice of TREET and it provides 6% calcium and 4% of the iron for your Daily Values.

If you decide to keep buying SPAM or switch over to TREET, you may want to have a look at Hawaii's 2nd Spam Cookbook (link provided). I'm sure that the recipes could work with either product. Might as well make it taste better than it does.

Duane Browning
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