Spam Goes to War: American Food Relief to the British Home Front in the Second World War

Kelly Spring, University of Southern Maine

“Spam, Spam, Spam”, intoned a group of Vikings in a fictitious British greasy spoon as diners struggled to choose their meal from a menu dominated by SPAM. This television comedy skit, broadcast on the UK’s Monty Python Flying Circus in 1972, represents the enduring legacy of SPAM in British popular culture and cookery. However, it was first produced by the Hormel Food Corporation in the U.S. in 1937. But, during the Second World War, SPAM went from a national product to a vital part of America’s food aid to the Allies, including Britain. In Spring 1942, the United States began shipping SPAM and other foodstuffs to the United Kingdom through the Lend-Lease Program. In doing so, the U.S. contributed a much-needed supply of protein to the British populace, which had been living on food rations since 1940. SPAM shipments were put on “personal points”. British people were allotted 16, and later 20 points, per month that they could use to buy certain foods, such as tinned goods, including SPAM, rice and cereal in shops. Through trans-Atlantic wartime food shipments, SPAM found its way onto British plates, altering the country’s foodways forever. This paper, “SPAM Goes to War: American Food Relief to the British Home Front during the Second World War”, will examine why and how SPAM became part of the food relief that the United States sent to Britain through the Lend-Lease Act. In doing so, it will illuminate how the transfer of American food habits to British plates represented wider shifts in the Anglo-American relationship. Using personal testimony, this research will also investigate how SPAM was perceived by the British populace during the conflict, exploring the creative ways in which cooks integrated the new protein into the everyday diet and changed British consumption habits during the Second World War.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 178. Food Migration: Tourism, Consumption, Performance