IT'S COME to this. Just a few weeks ago I was joking online that, despite all the crazies swooping down on the supermarkets and making off with anything that’s not nailed down, nobody was interested in the Spam. Under a photograph of the can in question (Spam® with real Hormel® bacon) I wrote: “Shortages my ar*e.”
A few days later, after Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian announced that pretty much everything was going into lockdown, even the Spam had gone.
That’s when you know you’re in trouble.
I like Spam and have been known, in more impecunious times (rather like now, come to think of it), to follow the simple serving suggestion on the tin (slices of Spam warmed up in a frying pan with a fried egg).
It’s not to everyone’s taste, though. Indeed, just a passing mention has caused my partner to make a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp.
Which got me to thinking; if we’re at the point where even the Spam is flying off the shelves (though at last count there were, I kid you not, still some cans of teriyaki Spam on the shelf at Coles in Lismore) what foodstuffs were the panicking plagues of human locusts leaving behind in their bid to strip our mercantile fields bare?
I headed to my local Coles to find out. There, the usual scenes unfolded; shelves stripped of rice, peanut butter, pasta, oats, muesli, fruit juice, Panadol, Weet-Bix, coconut milk, corn chips and crackers.
The queues at the checkouts were legendary and the aisles filled with sad-sack latecomers picking over the scraps like lame pigeons after the seagulls have been through.
And yet not a dent had been made in the Peck’s Anchovette spread. Nor Peck’s devilled ham, Peck’s salmon & lobster and Peck’s chicken & ham – a bargain at $3 for two. It makes you wonder who buys Peck’s when there’s NOT a global pandemic.
Chicken in a can didn’t fare well in general, it must be said. Coles’ own brand teriyaki flavoured shredded chicken breast sat unmolested – not much chance of catching the virus from those babies, that’s for sure.
Ditto the sweet chilli and mustard mayonnaise flavours but perhaps this was because the serving suggestion on the can is a delicate dollop atop a cracker - and all the crackers were gone.
Not far from the canned chicken was the canned fish section, where mussels in Galician and escabeche sauces sit cheek by jowl with smoked oysters, mackerel fillets, kippers, sardines, anchovies and more types of tuna than there are tuna left in the sea.
All eschewed and unchewed in favour of a blitzkrieg which took down the toilet paper aisles and pulverised the sanitary product shelves (really?) before corralling all the Coca-Cola into trucks and disappearing into the night. All that was left in the soft drinks section was a tall tower of Pepsi, left behind like the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima after they dropped the atomic bomb and obliterated everything else.
It’s like some modern scorched earth policy where the retreating army, rather than burn everything in their wake, leave behind packets of prunes, boxes of couscous, Cheese Tubes (‘made with real cheese’) and packets of seaweed flavoured rice crackers on the understanding that nobody in their right mind would eat it.
Kombucha didn’t fare too well, either, with the refrigerated fruit juice shelves looking like the aftermath of a neutron bomb designed to vaporise anything citrussy and leave behind sour stuff that tastes like it’s just past its sell-by date.
So, you see people, it’s time to stop panic buying; there’s plenty out there if you just look past the obvious. At my place tonight, for instance, we’ll be having Spam and couscous sprinkled with crumbled seaweed rice crackers followed by escabeche mussels with a quenelle of mustard mayonnaise chicken, all washed down with a bucket of Pepsi.
*It’s probably best to point out that despite its reputation in Australia and the UK as ‘poverty food’ Spam sales worldwide have been breaking sales records year on year even before Covid-19. First introduced in the United States in 1937, Spam gained popularity after its use by troops in World War II and is today still hugely popular in Hawaii, where it’s part of the staple diet.
Its basic ingredients are pork and ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite. The billionth can was sold in 1959, the seven billionth shot out the door in 2007 and the eight billionth was sold in 2012, the company’s 75th anniversary.
There is, by the way, a Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. It recently closed thanks to … Covid-19.