SPAM A LOT: Why SPAM is not (all)unhealthy food-SPAM as political and cultural resistance in Hawaii

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceeding

Abstract

The first time I visited, what is sometimes called the last Hawaiian fishing village, Miloli´i, South Kona, on the west coast of the island of Hawaii (The Big Island) in 1998, a villager took me out for fishing. We had a pretty decent catch of tuna that morning, she told me. Back to the house my newly found friends were soon preparing for a wonderful lunch with fresh tuna. Or, so I thought. To my disappointment I could see only rice, macaroni-sallad and Spam! Confused by this observation I said: How come you eat Spam when you have fresh fish? They looked at me and laughed: -Because we like it! This awkward situation I found myself in might have been a good enough explanation, or a fieldwork breakdown if you so wish, of something that really startled me. However, months and even years later I found out more intriguing connections between Spam, Native Hawaiians and the political cause the sovereignty movement is pursuing. For some groups in the sovereignty movement, separation from the U.S. is the goal they are striving for. Other groups have more modest claims aiming at strengthening “Hawaiian indigenous rights” in the U.S. The groups are however linked on one hand in their aversion to a lot of things in American culture and on the other hand the consumption of both American foods and culture. The villagers of the last fishing village in Hawai´i have a somewhat different attitude to things political: “We do it the Miloli´i way”, as they often say. The villagers, in general, say they do not care much for politics and are not interested in what the sovereignty movement is doing, which is mainly occurring in Honolulu. But that is a statement with qualifications. American health authorities are quite often telling them that they should not eat fast food or having so much of a high-cholesterol intake as they have. So when the villagers say they eat Spam because they like it, they are disclosing a political attitude to the surrounding world. They do not care “what these Americans are saying”.
But, objectively speaking is not Spam bad food? Well, from a nutrition- and health perspective it might well be so. But food is not only about nutrition as a considerable amount of anthropologists and others have concluded. It is also, and maybe more so, about politics and social relations. For the villagers, Spam is about social life, and indirectly about politics and resistance towards American influence in Hawai´i. They care about the fish, and are really worried now when it is harder to catch a good “ahi”. They love fish and other seafood and are ready to tell everything about how to find them. But, Spam is also close to their hearts. And that is not because it is cheap or practical. Paradoxically, by consuming Spam they resist American influence in the islands.

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Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Anthropology

Keywords

  • Hawaii, politics, identity, SPAM, food, socialantropologi, social anthropology
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
StatePublished - 2012
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes
EventFeast and famine: Exploring Relationships with Food in the Pacific - University College London
Duration: 2012 Sep 7 → …

Conference

ConferenceFeast and famine: Exploring Relationships with Food in the Pacific
Period2012/09/07 → …

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