Wednesday, 17 March 2010

"The Book of Spam Meals Snacks 'n' Party Ideas", Cheryl Baker

Over the 18 months or so that this blog's been in existence it's been a pretty sleepy place.

This isn't a bad thing. Sleepy places, as my cat will attest, are one of the best things imaginable.

I'm thus surprised that recently posts, despite the text captcha human-check, spam comments, pointing at an array of what, from the URLs, look a lot like porn sites (being at work I have no intention of following these links at all) have become absurdly prevalent.

Spam's one of those interesting phenomenon that's evolved over time. Back in the innocence of the 1990s, when the web was new and email addresses a cause for profound confusion, the periodic appearance of unsolicited mail could be readily dealt with through a simple "you have sent me unsolicited mail. Please don't do this again" reply, with reasonable assurance that you were responding to a human. If that didn't work then a quick email to the ISP admin would usually do the trick.

Oh innocent days of naivity...

We then entered the period where spam was everywhere, where your emailbox was endlessly clogged with people peddling impotence cures, soliciting assistance in getting countless millions out of West Africa, offering you the chance to boost your educational credentials, or, my particular favourite, giving me the chance to become a priest (which among other things, meant I could visit prisons and marry relatives...).

And then it stopped. In the main software companies employ clever people. As of this morning my Gmail account had 334 spam messages in it, and my inbox had been troubled by virtually none of them. Spam email has receded from consciousness to the extent that when I read Richard Parker's largely enjoyable "Stop Me" the one area I struggled with was how a chain email could enter the public consciousness to the extent he posits.

So spam's elsewhere now. It's in the pornographic followers who try to follow you on twitter, and it's comments on blogs.

Twitter's easy to fix. It's easy to block the unwelcome, and in any case I'm not sure a spammer who's elected to recieve broadcasts from me has really grasped the prinicples of profitable direct marketing (maybe this is spam engaging in a groundswell dialogue, but that sounds a bit unlikely doesn't it?). Spammers commenting on my blog is a different story. This is a return to the halcyon days when email felt private and spam was unwelcome. It's still easy to deal with (so "毛衣" and "book", your rather ungermane comments on Paul Kilduff's "The Frontrunner" have been duly excised) but nonetheless annoying.

So, let's see if Spam is worth reappropriating, and what better way than to look at what fun things one can make with Spam? I did fear I was going to have to leave this post in draft for quite a while, we're currently renovating, and all the cookery related books are in a big unwieldy pile in the study rather than being readily accessible, but thankfully this gem could be found towards the top.

Published in 1992 this presumably was Spam's attempt to recapture the mainstream and encourage more people to eat it. On the upside, it's possibly a good way of getting people into the kitchen and doing things other than poking a plastic box into the microwave, but really, that's clutching at straws.

More fundamentally, food is about the most difficult thing on the planet to photograph well. For a cookery book to work it needs to either eschew photography completely and let the writer's descriptions convince you, or it needs to pay a photographer quite a lot of money. Nigella Lawson's publishers tend to get it right. Downmarket restaurants often get it wrong.

Which is it here? Is this the product of a photographer not quite grasping light, colour, exposure? Or does Spam when cooked really look like this?

I can't conceive of how awful Spam based Cantonese Stir Fry must be. I think its appearance at the dinner table might be even less appealing than an piece of unsolicited mail. Is that possible?