Pool: Hominy, SPAM, and hope


Columnist Frank Pool hopes his can of SPAM, laid in for the coronavirus pandemic, must never be opened.

When I was young and working in Houston, I lived in a big old house with four other guys.

We had a system that had each of us take turns buying groceries and cooking suppers for the week.

That worked pretty well.

I remember going to the grocery store and buying a large can of hominy, not because I liked the stuff but because it was cheap and I knew that if I ever opened it, I would either be out of food or out of money.

For years I carried that can, unopened, to various places I lived.

It was only after I was married and felt securely established in the middle class that I finally threw it away.

Last week my wife went to stock up on some non-perishable groceries in preparation for some lean and dangerous times ahead. I asked her to bring home a case of SPAM.

I did not order it because I especially like it. If it doesn’t go bad, well, that’s because it never was good to start with. We got it because of the hominy phenomenon. When you’re down to SPAM, you know things are serious.

When I was a kid, SPAM would occasionally show up on our plates. If fried until the edges were crispy, it wasn’t awful. I was never one of those children who refused to eat things I didn’t like, such as liver.

As an adult, I had a different relationship with that processed meat.

In the last decade of the last century, a group of my buddies and I would go backpacking. SPAM was one of those things, like freeze-dried food and cigars, that I would only consume in the wilderness.

The 1995 SPAM-powered ascent of East Pecos Baldy in New Mexico remains legendary — at least to the small group of people who were there.

My mother-in-law remembers how grateful she and her sisters were to eat the stuff in Britain during the World War II. I’m sure she did not serve it to her children, though.

In Hawaii, and Polynesia, SPAM has become part of the local cuisine.

It has also been associated with high rates of obesity, as the fat and salt in the meat, taken in high doses, are not particularly healthy.

In New Guinea, WWII brought an influx of Australian and American servicemen who used SPAM to pay indigenous people for manual labor hauling gear.

The native people were very impressed with the miracle mystery meat.

Suddenly the war was over, and the Allies departed, and SPAM disappeared.

In various places in New Guinea, “cargo cults” developed.

The people built models of the C-47 cargo plane out of wood and vines, and they conducted ceremonies around them, convinced that if they got things just right, the planes would return, and SPAM, steel knives and cases of beer would parachute from heaven.

One summer my wife and I drove through Austin, Minnesota, home of the Hormel meat company that makes SPAM.

It’s a nice little town that boasts a downtown museum devoted to the stuff.

We bought T-shirts touting the stuff — I’m wearing mine as I write.

We’ve stocked up on other foods we don’t usually eat, like canned beans. If we’re going to be shut in for a long time, we need victuals that don’t need refrigeration.

I hope the SPAM turns out the way the hominy did, as a reserve that never needed to be touched. Facing a frightening future, we take our hopes with more than a grain of salt.

— Frank Thomas Pool is a writer and a retired English teacher in Austin. He grew up on Maple Street in Longview and graduated from Longview High School. His column appears Tuesday.

Today's Bible verse

“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’”

— Galatians 4:6

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