As we get ready for Thanksgiving in the USA, our thoughts increasingly turn to FOOD as we plan the feast: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and . . . Spam?
This week, I have found myself thinking about Hawaiian food, including Spam, no doubt in light of Saffron Street: Island Danger, recently released and set on O’ahu. And as it turns out, there is a link between Spam and the Japanese Americans’ incarcerations post Pearl Harbor, central to my book’s mystery. Keep reading!
I found an interesting article by Kiki Aranita about the history of Spam, a food abundantly served throughout the Hawaiian islands. According to Aranita, who grew up on O’ahu, many people on the Mainland denigrate this popular food as over-processed, unhealthy, salt-laden, canned junk food. Not so in Hawai’i! For Aranita and Hawaiians, Spam, especially served with eggs and rice, is wrapped in the history and nostalgia of the islands there.
Also from O’ahu, Chef Chung Chow of New York City’s Noreetah restaurant associates Spam with home. He serves Spam in a fine-dining context in an attempt to change Spam’s image on the Mainland. On his menu is an array of Spam musubi. He finds it interesting that Spam costs more on the Mainland ($5.00) than in Hawai’i ($1.99) despite it being produced in Minnesota and Nebraska!
Spam’s Hawaiian history was born of suspicion and food insecurity. In the late 19th century, “work contracts of the Japanese laborers who had come to work on Hawai’i’s sugarcane plantations expired. Many of them, skilled fisherman, turned to commercial fishing. They could earn more than working on the plantations. The Japanese displaced the Hawaiians in commercial fisheries . . . and eventually monopolized the deep sea fishing industry.
By the 1930s, the US military came to view this as a threat to national security. . . . There were concerns that the fishermen were being interrogated by Japanese Navy officials on hydrographic conditions in Hawai’i, ending the careers of many fishermen. But even after the attack on Pearl Harbor, none of these claims were substantiated. As Japanese Americans were incarcerated in camps on the mainland, this effective ban in Hawai’i on deep sea fishing by “aliens” obliterated the industry and left Hawai’i’s Japanese population stranded.