What You Didn't Know About Hawaii's Spam Festival

It's no secret that Hawaii has a fantastic reputation. It's pretty much paradise, for one thing. It's the home of the hula, luaus, and leis. It gave the world legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing. And, according to MinnPost, it's the U.S. capital of Spam consumption. The average Hawaiian eats over five cans of Spam each year, so much that the website devoted to news in Minnesota — where Spam is made — had to give the tropical paradise its props: "Whether Minnesotans care to admit it or not, Hawaii is the true capital of Spam."

And each year in October, the Aloha State celebrates its possibly excessive consumption of Spam with a huge festival. According to its website, the Spam Jam is one of the state's biggest culinary fairs. The free, all-day party, which according to Outrigger Hotels first took place in 2001, is held on Kalakaua Avenue, on Honolulu's picturesque Waikiki beach, and features booths from the city's finest restaurants, who serve up a wide variety of delectable recipes in which Spam is the star ingredient. There's also live music, arts and crafts, and merchandise tents, so you can stock up on all your favorite Spam t-shirts, board shorts, flip-flops, and other fun items emblazoned with the spiced ham's logo. The Spam Jam truly is fun for the whole canned meat-loving family. And this isn't a few Hawaiian Spam heads getting together to toss a frisbee on the beach. As many as 35,000 people come from all over the world to Spam out in paradise.

How Hawaii fell in love with Spam

To better understand this oddly themed festival, let's take a look at Hawaii's love affair with Spam to see how it got to the point where it's consuming seven million cans of the stuff each year. According to HuffPost, it all started back in World War II. The canned meat was perfect for feeding GIs, as it has a super long shelf life and no need for refrigeration. And boy, did those soldiers eat a lot of it. Allied troops hoovered down 15 million cans of the stuff each week, and by the end of the war, Spam's manufacturer, Hormel, had sent over 100 million pounds abroad. It became such a part of the GI's diet that they jokingly referred to it as "Special Army Meat." (Spam is a portmanteau of the term "spiced ham," btw.)

Through its status as a staple in the soldiers' diet, it made its way into the popular culinary canon of Hawaii. Popular Hawaiian Spam dishes include a kind of nigiri-style sushi made called Spam Musubi. Spam fried rice is also a favorite. And for breakfast, of course, Spam and eggs. Even popular fast food chains like Burger King and McDonald's have jumped on the Spam bandwagon, offering their own twists on recipes featuring what is now known as "Hawaiian steak."

The proceeds from Hawaii's Spam festival go to a good cause

Waikiki's Spam Jam festival isn't all about gorging yourself on mystery meat. It's also done for a good cause. As the Jam's website informs, the funds raised by the festival go to several charitable organizations in the state. The main one is the Hawaii Foodbank, which coordinates with hundreds of other agencies on the islands to bring both perishable and nonperishable food items to families in need. As you might expect, they see quite an influx of Hawaiian steak come Spam Jam time.

The festival also works with the Waikiki Community Center, which runs several programs to help low-income people live active, healthy lives. The center provides services to over 20,000 people, from locals to visitors to senior citizens, each year. The other organization that the Spam Jam partners with is one that helps the state's most vital industry: tourism. Founded by the local Rotary Club, the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, or VASH, has made it its mission to "share aloha with Hawaii visitors who have been the victim of crime, injury, or other adversities." Basically, they don't want people who have had a bad time in Hawaii going back home and giving the place a bad name. Seems like it would be a hard time to have a bad memory from Hawaii (except maybe a rough case of indigestion from eating all that Spam), but VASH is there just in case.