A few days ago in the middle of a conversation with Roy Choi about Spam (yes Spam) Roy made the point that Spam is one of those foods that’s very “inside” particular cultural communities. “Inside”, like when people next to you start talking in complete minutiae about a subject that you know nothing about and all of a sudden you find yourself on the outside. As in the phrase “Boy, that’s really inside baseball”.
Roy says that if you are Asian, Hawaiian or grew up in the Midwest, Spam was on the table frequently enough that it’s just part of the food vernacular. But if you didn’t grow up in a Spam appreciative community then it can freak you out. I immediately thought about gefilte fish, another “inside” food I know well, and realized there are a lot of similarities there. Both are inexpensive, salty, protein-rich umami bombs cloaked in quivering jellied substances that will freak out those on the “outside”. Spam is a terrine, gefilte fish, a quenelle. They’re cousins, two “inside” foods beloved by those in their cultural embrace, but subject to ridicule by those on the “outside”. Food tells stories of culture and community if you listen hard enough.