If you spend any time in any region that was once impoverished or colonized, you tend to pretty quickly find that the “traditional” foodstuffs — the kinda shit the tourists want to know about it — almost always boils (ha!) down to “Well it was the only thing available after the Occupying Power had their way so…”
Spam is a central part of several iconic Hawaiian dishes such as spam musubi and the loko moko, just to name a couple.
I don’t want to take away from your point, but so you know: I also have fond memories of government cheese, but I was eating it in the heart of Minneapolis, not Appalachia.
I remember you telling us about that. You need to run that course again, for us and our curiousity, if not for the students!
i remember when i lived in Seattle, there was an annual event of a Spam carving contest that ran as an alternative to the Very Loud Boats Race on Lake Washington. contestants would get tins of Spam and sculpt little mastepirces of potted luncheon meat.
does anyone up there know if this still goes on? it was quite fun.
As I recall, the government cheese that was handed out in the early ‘80s was due to the government buying up a surplus of milk to support dairy farmers, and then needing to do something with it. My south Georgia grandmother was well fixed with her teacher’s pension, Social Security, and farmland rental income, but qualified for a big ol’ block of it because of her age. We ate on it all one summer when I was staying with her during the school summer break. It was “American” cheese. Nothing special, but fine in a sandwich or a grilled cheese.
I thought moko loko was beef patties with gravy over rice topped with a fried egg or two. I suppose there could be a version with spam…
It’s coming again in fall 2024. And we’re always open to suggestions for organizing topics that can be used to explore history and culture.
Last time we had weeks on bread/grains to discuss the agricultural revolution, “Native American cuisine” (I know, I know; we focused on local groups), coffee for early modern European coffee house culture, fermented foods for a few different areas, potatoes for South America and transatlantic foodways, sugarcane and rum for the transatlantic slave trade, spices, chocolate because I like chocolate, rice for African and African American foodways, drinking rituals (focused on early America), spam, and “feasting” as a broad category.
We brought a sample of the food each week, and often had outside speakers. The woman who came to talk about bread was Ukrainian, which was amazing. Now that we have a good connection with the Poarch Creek Indians we plan to have someone from their Council come help us with our Native American food section next time.
But we’re open to anything that can help tell a bigger story, and that would allow us to bring in cool dishes to share.
I’m also reminded of Native American fry bread. It’s the exact same story: the US government removes the indigenous peoples’ staple food source (by various means, including mass hunts and by displacing them from their homelands) and the meagre replacement rations by necessity become the basis for a new “traditional” and much loved food.
… or for dinner as a ‘cheaper than Kraft Mac & Cheez’ alternative, because pasta and “United States Government Surplus Cheese” (as I called it) was the thing commonly available at the food bank. At least that’s my memory of it growing up.
Me? Wisconsin of all places, back in the 80’s.
… Accurate, from what my memory has.
The darker side on that story is that during some of the relocation marches, that was the only thing that could be cooked while on the trail. (How the US treated the natives during the expansion period is one of the things that was glossed over, whitewashed, and heavily sanititzed in school.)
Pretty sure that the story only has dark sides
The tears in the Trail of Tears were not of happiness, I can give assurances of that.
In Central Phoenix, there’s a park / ‘site of historical significance’ that used to be an Indian School; several of the buildings are preserved, and the area around it has markers, and explainer stations dotted around it explaining the site’s history with an eye toward actual accuracy instead of it being whitewashed. I felt vaguely ill after reading through all of them in order, and I expect that was the intended effect.
“Genuan cooking, like the best cooking everywhere in the multiverse, has been evolved by people who had to make desperate use of ingredients their masters didn’t want. No-one would even try a bird’s nest unless they had to. Only hunger would make a man taste his first alligator. No-one would eat a shark’s fin if they were allowed to eat the rest of the shark.” – Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad.
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