Vegan Spam took over Asia. Now it comes to American menus
For a four-letter word with only six ingredients, spam is a complicated food. American journalists have commented on its peculiar high-low appeal here in the US – spam serves as both a budget food and a pseudo fine dining trend. But as complex as our relationship with spam in the US is, it carries so much weight on board. Spam has become a staple in many Asian countries, but for the older generation, its presence offers an aftertaste of American imperialism thanks to multiple U.S. deployments and subsequent occupations during the war. Hong Kong-based OmniFoods wants to wipe this slate clean. The OmniPork Luncheon (aka Vegan Spam) erases the cruelty and complicated history of pig-based spam. Now that OmniPork has been launched in the US, OmniPork seeks to satisfy our cravings in a more compassionate way. Here’s what you need to know about Spam and its vegan successor.
The rise of OmniPork
The vegan world got a standing ovation when OmniPork launched in Hong Kong in 2018. The plant-based pork product was the first of its kind – a triumph for OmniFoods. This food tech company falls under the projects of the Green Monday group– a multinational sustainability organization founded in Hong Kong by entrepreneur David Yeung.
In 2020, the brand debuted its vegan lunch meat to fight the popularity of spam in Asia. The food tech company responsible for developing this product may be deeply rooted in Asian culture, but not Asian – it’s Canadian. The OmniPork slogan stands for “Western Innovation x Asian Application”.
Yeung assured us that while developing in Canada, many Asian Canadians were part of the process. Yeung said, “We are blessed with a very experienced food science research and development team with an Asian background who understand how Asians use meat differently in cooking. [Green Monday Group] The company is based in Asia. Therefore, our focus on research and development from day one has been to develop new innovations that fit into the way we cook and eat. “
The Green Monday Group explicitly passed on their instructions to their research and development team. The product not only had to taste and feel like spam, it had to smell like it too. Yeung stated, “There is a fragrance that is unique to lunch meat. It evokes childhood memories for many people. So get it right, along with texture and nutrition, of course [was] decisive. “
Spam and Imperialism
There’s no argument that vegans have problems with animal spam for a number of reasons. There is the slaughter of animals, the degradation of the environment, the social justice issues that come with CAFOs, and the harm to human health. With spam, however, another pressing factor is of immediate concern: imperialism.
The original pig-based Spam, developed by the Hormel Company in 1937 (there is also a turkey option), is a mix of processed pork and ham, water, sugar, modified potato starch, and sodium nitrate. American soldiers brought it with them during their war missions and professions as a convenient, high-calorie option for subsistence. Soldiers stationed in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and other Pacific island nations didn’t always have a taste for the salty pork product, however, and it would eventually end up in the hands of local communities fed by the American handouts offered to soldiers.
Spam in Asia
And so local populations began to incorporate spam into their kitchens. In South Korea there is budae jjigae;; in Hawaii (not yet a US state during World War II), Spam musubi; and spam rice fried in guam. And after American troops left these regions, the spam didn’t go away with them – it exploded, turning from a food synonymous with battle and war into a real delicacy. Today, South Korea is the second largest consumer of canned pork after the US, and the tiny nation of Guam is gaining in spam consumption per capita by a whopping 16 cans per person per year. Overall, Spam occupies sixth place in the can subgroup of the annual Top 1000 list of Asian brands and has become part of the cuisine of many Asian nations and has also been integrated into the Asian American palate.
Spam and high speed slaughter
Fast forward to today and like so many other industrialized, processed meat products, Spam is under scrutiny. In 2015, a Hormel slaughterhouse was selected to participate in a USDA pilot program aimed at removing the cap on the rate of pig killings. Before the program, slaughterhouses were limited to killing 1,106 pigs per hour. Under the new guidelines to modernize pork slaughtering, this cap has been raised to allow for unregulated slaughter at terrifying speeds. Despite an undercover investigation by Animal Outlook that documented serious animal abuse and workers’ efforts to keep up, the program was finalized in 2019 and expanded to all pig slaughterhouses across the country. Hormel, along with other pork operations, is now killing pigs faster than ever before, regardless of animal or worker welfare. That’s a bad taste that is hard to imagine, no matter how many Michelin stars or James Beard awards the chef has.
Hope for the future
Despite this unregulated pace of slaughter, pork production rates have fallen unexpectedly in recent years, falling 15 percent from 2019 to 2020. Given the 45 percent increase in plant-based meat sales over the same period, it can be assumed that vegan meat products are at least partially responsible for the decline in pork production. The plant-based linchpin seems to be due in large part to the improved accessibility of vegan meats like OmniPork.
Currently, OmniPork is available in over 300 restaurants in Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines, Macau and Hong Kong. Consumers can also find OmniPork at hundreds of retailers in these regions and some regions of mainland China. Like the integration of Beyond and Impossible Burger into American fast food culture, the OmniPork Option gives customers the ability to limit their meat consumption while enjoying the foods and restaurants they love. Because as long as customers get their pork dumplings, it doesn’t matter if they’re made from plants. As long as the dumplings evoke the same sensory experience, most people probably don’t mind the fact that they’re not made with animals.
If OmniPork can further limit consumer tastes for meat, we’ll let vegan lunchtime meat go further. The introduction of OmniPork in the US will be limited to just under 10 restaurants (see below). However, a national rollout in retail is planned for this summer. Given the juicy OmniPork Bao, OmniPork layered sushi, and sweet and sour bola bola OmniPork meatballs these restaurants prepare. It won’t be long before Americans get excited about this vegan spam.
OmniPork has been launched in the following locations in the United States:
- Little Fatty
- Ramen Hood
- Morning evenings
- GOEN Dining + Bar
- Tane Vegan Izakaya
Tanya Flink is a digital editor at VegNews as well as a writer and fitness enthusiast who lives in Orange County, CA.