Thursday, 4 February 2010

SPAM SPAM chips and SPAM

The soldiers fighting overseas in Afghanistan have had to weather some pretty intolerable conditions since the second gulf war began back in late 2001. Regular ambushes, a growing insurgency and the lack of suitable equipment has made day-to-day life difficult for our military personnel.

But perhaps the cruellest blow to date must have been the moment when a supply helicopter was shot down en route to an operating base near Sangin. According to a lengthy feature in the Mail, the poor Army chef responsible for feeding 'Our Boys' (copyright The Sun) at the base realised he was going to have to be more resourceful than a Ready Steady Cook contestant with a Tesco bag full of peanut shells and horsehair. Actually, even those ingredients might have made his life a little more bearable, since instead, he had only a store cupboard full of SPAM to work with.

For the next six weeks, Corporal Liam Francis did everything he could with the reconstituted animal derivatives, rustling up a stomach churning array of meals that must have violated several of the Geneva Conventions. Sweet and sour, carbonara, stroganoff and stir-fries were all given the distinctive SPAM treatment as the gritty pink matter was chopped, shaped and sautéed until it resembled something edible.

It's not clear whether six weeks of an all-SPAM diet started to make some of the troops look edible too - like when Sylvester would picture Tweety Pie as a dressed poussin on a swing. Thankfully, regular service was eventually resumed, with morale soaring when the soldiers finally tucked into battered sausages, chips and curry sauce.

Still, we all love a nice uplifting story of derring-do and good old-fashioned ingenuity under duress. So it's a shame that the PR origins of this story shine through quite so glaringly. Maybe it's the carefully composed photo of a hand reaching into a neatly lines cupboard of SPAM. Perhaps it's the handy list of SPAMtastic recipes, that reads like excerpts from The Young Poisoner's Handbook. Or could it be the fact that there's a handy history section outlining the history of the world's favourite almost-meat?

We all know that the relationship between news and the PR industry has become increasingly symbiotic in recent years - the journalists have countless pages to fill, and the PR agencies have to dress up some pretty uninspiring products in 'human interest' stories that people may actually bother to read.

SPAM owners Hormel Foods have clearly engaged a PR company to build affection for their tinned terror, by positioning it as the 'food of the people' and sharing some handy recipe suggestions to attempt at home. They tried this once before with a stunningly bad TV ad that invited the public to 'Spam Up!' - the highlight of which was the sight of an older man treating his wife to an anniversary dinner of SPAM salad. Sadly, the camera cuts away before we get to see him tweezing pieces of broken crockery out of his face.

It's said that truth is the first casualty of war. But this may well be the first time that the pro-military propaganda machine has been reconfigured to sell a processed ham substitute.

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