Thursday, January 19, 2017

Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam and spam.

Much maligned as a food for the poor, the ubiquitous nature of Spam has earned it a place in a prepper's pantry. I know that at least one of you out there is gagging at the thought of eating “mystery meat” out of a can, but I'm betting that you'd choke it down if you got hungry enough. Some of us were forced to eat things that we didn't like when we were children, and we may have sworn that once we were grown up we'd never eat “that stuff” again, but I think you should give Spam another look.

Made of spiced pork and ham, with various seasonings and a dose of sodium nitrite added as preservative, Spam has been around since 1937. Production and export during WW2 (where it was a field ration) spread the canned meat product all over the world and provided a source of protein for Allied forces and the civilian populations they lived around.

Spam is a simple product. Pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, potato starch (as a binder), sugar, and sodium nitrite are all that's in the basic version today; variants on the market today add bacon, hickory smoke flavoring, Tabasco sauce, jalapeno peppers, garlic, or some other flavoring for a change of pace. 

Produced in plants in in Minnesota and Nebraska, Spam is “retort” canned, meaning that it is cooked in the same can into which it is vacuum sealed. This extends its shelf life beyond that of food which is first cooked and then sealed in a can by eliminating exposure to air and microbes after cooking. Being retort canned makes it “shelf stable”, which means that it doesn't require refrigeration until after it is opened. The cans I have on my pantry shelf have a “best by” date of three years from when I purchased them, which is close to the five year shelf life of most “survival” meals on the market. I'd trust that Spam to be fit to eat beyond those three years, depending on storage conditions -- my pantry is in the basement, so it stays cool and dry with a fairly steady temperature,  all good things for extending the shelf life of stored foods.

Spam comes in standard 12 ounce (oz) cans, and since the “recommended” serving of meat for most meals is 4 oz, each can contains three servings. 
  • One serving provides 310 Calories, about 240 of them from fat (slow energy, useful in cold climates);
  • about 1400 mg of Sodium (half of your RDA);
  • and a good portion of your daily needs for protein and zinc. (It's meat.)
Use some common sense and eat other things as well to balance out your diet, and if you're on a sodium-restricted diet, watch the salt content. For those of us with no natural local source of salt, products like this provide a source if things go wrong for long enough to disrupt normal supply lines.

Spam is easy to find, being sold around the world with some regional variations. Here in the USA it is probably easiest and cheapest to buy it at a local grocery store or Walmart. I normally include Amazon links to products, but when Walmart sells it on their website for $2.50 a can with free shipping and Amazon can't match that unless you're a Prime member, I'll stick to Walmart. It pays to shop around and look for better prices -- some of the prices on Amazon for the flavored kinds were around $7.00 a can, when I can get them at a small-town grocery store for less than $4.00.

As easy as it is to find, Spam is also easy to use. Eat it hot or cold, baked, fried, boiled, broiled, or grilled. There is no shortage of recipes for Spam, with some of the oddest ones coming out of the islands of the Pacific ocean where it was introduced during WW2 and is now a staple or a delicacy depending on the culture.

Spam isn't prime rib, but it will last a lot longer on your shelf. Given the versatility and ease of access, I believe a few cans of Spam should be on everyone's pantry shelf. If nothing else, it's something to threaten the kids with.

P.S.: For those readers who choose to not eat pork products for dietary or religious reasons, there are various forms of canned beef and chicken available, but since they aren't as widely sold the prices are higher -- expect to pay at least twice as much per oz as you would for Spam. Common producers are Yoder's, Lehman's, and Keystone. Two of the three cater to the Amish communities around Ohio and have for many years.

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