Guam loves Spam

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JEB SHARP: I'm Jeb Sharp. This is The World. The U.S. Pacific Island territory of Guam is probably best known for its U.S. military bases. But Guam has another distinction. It's the world's leading per capita consumer of Spam, the real Spam. Here's The World's Mary Kay Magistad.

MARY KAY MAGISTAD: As a kid growing up in Minnesota I once had a t-shirt with a cartoon of a couple of doughy white people sitting on lawn chairs with the slogan "Minnesota, a far better place than Guam". It was a monument both to Minnesota smugness and the ability to be self-deprecating. After all, Guam seemed impossibly remote and weren't there supposed to be a lot of snakes there? Leave aside the fact that Guamanians were actually basking on white sandy beaches under palm trees while Minnesotans were shoveling snow, Minnesota and Guam actually had at least one close connection, a little piece of Minnesota had worked its way into Guamanian hearts and diets. Yes, Spam, a high sodium blob of chopped pork shoulder. Spam was invented by Hormel in Austin, Minnesota at the tail end of the Great Depression. It was shipped out en masse during World War II to the Pacific Theater where it was, and still is, warmly embraced. In Korea it's considered an appropriate gift for a dinner guest to bring a host. And in Guam, that's Alyssa Eclavea, a slim 17-year-old ethnic Chamorro from Guam. She's hanging out with a friend at a weekend New Moon festival by the sea.

ALYSSA ECLAVEA: You can just make it at home. I also love, I can even just fry it and I'm completely fine. Oh yeah, rice. I love it with ketchup and Tabasco. Fried spam, eggs and rice. And soy sauce.

MAGISTAD: Or there's Spam Kelaguin, a special Chamorro dish that can be made with any minced meat. As Eclavea's friend, Monica De Oro describes.

MONICA DE ORO: It's just a traditional method of cooking without, just cooking using acid, using lemon and onion and without heat. So we just cook up the Spam and soak it in lemon and vinegar and eat it with some onions and some hot pepper.

MAGISTAD: Eclavea's enthusiasm is a little taste of why Guam consumes more Spam per capita than any other place on earth. Sixteen cans per person, per year. Hawaii is a distant runner up with six. Of course, chowing down on high sodium, high fat processed food of this sort comes at a cost for a people who traditionally ate more healthy island fare; fish, taro, yams and cassava. Widespread obesity is becoming a problem. And public health studies suggest that 60% of deaths on Guam are caused by chronic disease linked to poor diet and lifestyle patterns. Local Guam TV has taken to airing regular exhortations to exercise, sponsored by McDonald's.

LOUISE MUNIERE: Hafa dei, I'm Louise Muniere and this is your McDonald's exercise minute. The key to starting a good, healthy exercise regimen starts with a strong core and good balance.

MAGISTAD: Even Hormel is getting in on the act. It now offers lower sodium Spam, Spam Lite, as well as Hot and Spicy Spam, Spam spread, Spam Hickory Smoked flavor and, of course, there's - -

MALE VOICE 1: Spam, eggs, Spam, Spam, bacon and Spam. Spam, Spam, Spam, eggs and Spam.

MAGISTAD: Hormel may be having the last laugh. It has sold more than seven billion cans of Spam to date. With the Asia Pacific region remaining a big market. An perhaps on the theory that any publicity is good publicity, it's even come up with Golden Honey Grail Spam, in honor of Monty Python, who immortalized it as no one else could. For The World, I'm Mary Kay Magistad, Guam.

SHARP: Hungry now? Visit The World dot org, we've got a recipe for a Guam specialty, Spam Fried Rice.