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Cultures could stand to have a spam filter

Posted: February 26, 2014 - 12:09am

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, the old saying goes. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Give him a case of Spam, professor Robert Lightfoot says, and you could ruin his culture.

That was one example that Lightfoot cited in his scholarly presentation, “Sorry, We Didn’t Mean to Break Your Culture.’’ It was one of 15 works published in a recent issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, the oldest astronautical journal in the world.

Lightfoot, an associate professor of criminal justice and criminology at Georgia State College, made his first presentation on the subject a year ago in Huntsville, Ala.

Spam is not considered eating high on the hog in Georgia and Florida, but it spread to Hawaii during World War II and into the rest of the Pacific later and they loved it. Spam replaced traditional local foods and with it came obesity, increased cancer and other health threats, Lightfoot wrote.

He goes into the ruinous effects of other “little things,’’ such as nutmeg, which he correctly calls “this spice that plagues us from October to January.”

But the little spice, which was found only on one island on the other side of the world, was thought to prevent the actual plague so it set off a search for a northern passage to get it back to Holland and England.

The plain but pretty tulip changed the culture of Holland when it was introduced from its native Tien Shan Mountains. Rare bulbs were worth so much they almost became currency.

Tobacco might be an example of a culture striking back, Lightfoot said.

When Europeans came to the so-called New World, they discovered that the natives were smoking a leaf called tobacco.

“Something that just started off as a medicinal herb in South and North America,’’ Lightfoot said, “we just went hog wild over it.”

Tobacco spread to Europe and ultimately around the world, giving people cancer and heart disease, he said.

“Let’s see, 22 million dead on their side,’’ he said of native North and South Americans. “I think they may have balanced the books.”

Tulip, nutmeg and Spam are relatively limited – at least geographically. If you worry about what the country’s coming to, you should be just as concerned about what American culture is doing to the rest of the world.

“We are getting more homogenous and not just nationally but worldwide. It concerns me things are going from our culture to others,’’ he said.

“You can get KFC in Beijing,’’ he said. “If I go to Germany, I have to look hard to find a German restaurant.”

And even something we consider minor could have an enormous effect.

“It’s impossible to tell what will have an impact,’’ Lightfoot said.

The next big thing is already well underway. Instant communications through cellphones and via computer are spreading faster than the plague and it’s keeping people from working.

“Somebody can be in touch all the time and end up doing nothing because they’re so busy doing so much,’’ he said.

That’s because a lot of what we do with those communication devices isn’t worth a pinch of nutmeg.

But on the positive side, most e-mails have a spam filter.

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