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Urban Legends: Spam Tastes Like Human Flesh!


Mmmmmm... cannibalism.


Along the perforated line found on all Spam-for-one packages is this legend: ''This dotted line is like a freeway, the freeway to a delicious explosion in your mouth.''

The Spam Lite can, by contrast, gets personal: ''It's time to enjoy. Take another bite and throw your head back and think wonderful thoughts of faraway places while you chew. Like a magical Spam Lite castle in the sky.''

Put simply: Spam -- that pink porky temptress par excellence -- speaks to me, as it has spoken to so many others. Indeed, no other gelatinous, oozing, meatlike substance has proven quite so inspiring: It's given rise to countless local festivals (Sparama! The Great American Spam-Off!), a fan club (whose members number in the tens of thousands), a museum (in Austin, Minnesota, the world-renowned cultural capital), and even a new genre of poetry: the Spam-ku. Like a haiku, but deliciously meat-themed.

To wit:

The color of Spam
Is natural as the sky:
A block of sunrise.

Pink tender morsel
Glistening with salty gel
What the hell is it?

An excellent question -- one which Hormel (HRL), maker of Spam since 1937, soothingly answers on its website: "Spam Classic is made of just a few simple ingredients. Pork with ham, salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and a touch of sodium nitrite. It's really no mystery at all."

But for anyone who's watched a delicious Spam-brick slowly shimmy out of its metal coffin, this is difficult, if not impossible, to believe: How could such simple ingredients give rise to such a singular taste sensation? Its flavor is certainly ineffable; even Hormel admits that, though "many have pondered how to put the taste of Spam into words, it has been a difficult task."

Perhaps that's why the rumors started.

Spam, it was said, had a dark secret: It owed its popularity to the fact that its flavor closely approximates the porky taste of human flesh. As Paul Theroux wrote:

"In much of Melanesia, for example, they called a cooked human being 'long pig.' It was a fact that the people-eaters of the Pacific had all evolved... into Spam-eaters. And in the absence of Spam, they settled for corned beef, which also had a corpsy flavor."

Corpsy, eh? Could that mean that Spam – said to be composed of nothing more sinister than ham and chopped pork shoulder – had just a soupcon of human shoulder baked in, for savor?

The places where Spam is made -- Austin, Minnesota, and the sprawling metropolis of Fremont, Nebraska -- suddenly took on a sinister cast. Admittedly, they looked innocent enough, to judge by the sorts of headlines found in their local papers.

From the Austin Daily Herald:

Chicken and Corn Feed Tuesday
Locals place in Root River Tractor Pull
Pug's family served papers after second bite

Or the Fremont Tribune:

Still Plenty to Do at the Fair
Scribner Teen Knows Dog Is Fast Friend
Operation Purple Sends Kids to Camp

On second thought... They looked almost too innocent. What could they be hiding?

Of course, as it turns out, Spam does not contain human flesh. And it's so popular among the people of the South Pacific (the ones Theroux was speaking of) because it's the cheapest meat known to man – not because it tastes like people.

But people may actually taste like Spam. In 2006, Japanese researchers debuted a robot able to identify dozens of different wines, cheeses and hors d'oeuvres using an infrared spectrometer.

When one reporter put his hand against the robot's taste sensor, he was identified as prosciutto; another was promptly determined to be bacon.

Human. It's what's for dinner.

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