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When a food  falls out of favor

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Updated: July 21, 2012 6:02AM

‘You want … Spam?” asked the Jewel employee, eyebrow arching.

“Yes,” I said, determined.

She marched me to the Spam, stocked under a sign that read “Can Fish.” Sadly, this iconic food now is relegated to an illiterately-titled grocery section alongside Manwich and pickled pig’s feet.

Available in reduced-fat as well as low-salt versions, Spam recently was issued in a “Golden Honey Grail” edition in conjunction with the Monty Python musical. This lunchmeat has a sense of humor.

Celebrating 75 years, Spam now seems mostly a punch line. At least that’s what I thought when I called my dad a few years ago. I’d just bought a tin of “Classic” Spam as a kind of goof. I remembered my dad eating Spam when I was a kid, so during that phone call I asked, “When’s the last time you had Spam.”

“Breakfast, “he said. No kidding. Retired in Florida, he’d buy Spam, slice and freeze single servings (mom wanted none of it), and enjoy it regularly.

Dad grew fond of Spam in the Army. He’d come from a hardscrabble youth in Detroit’s Hamtramck neighborhood, exaggerating his age to join up and fight in World War II. As a soldier, he got all the Spam he wanted. It was meat; he liked it.

Like him, many grew attached to Spam during wartime. In the Pacific — Hawaii, Okinawa, and the Philippines — Spam still is a respected part of the diet.

And why shouldn’t it be?

This “spiced ham” with the funny name has become associated with unwanted email, but listed ingredients are simply “Pork with ham, salt water, modified potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrate.” Sounds pretty much like many sausages.

Recently, I crisped up some Spam for a sandwich with mayo, mustard, onion and pea shoots (almost too fancy, I know). My generally omnivorous cat took just one bite.

My dad still eats Spam every chance he gets. I’m guessing it reminds him of his youth, pushing north through Italy with the 5th Army.

Last week I wrote about how we can learn to enjoy foods we’ve hated. It’s much harder to disdain and abandon foods you’d grown to love.

David Hammond is an Oak Park writer and contributor to WBEZ (91.5 FM) and E-mail

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