April 16, 2024


Than a Food Fitter

Cooking with PAM | Pamela’s Food Service Diary

4 min read

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Funny thing about that red and yellow can of PAM — she’s a gas. Well, actually she’s a spray. And serving as the face for PAM as it’s my natural birthright, given the moniker — and June is this Pam’s birth month — it might be an appropriate time to talk about “Pam,” a most food-forward name.

Pam Adamo of Grant City said her husband’s friends used to say, “You’re dating a girl named Pam? Oh, so like PAM in the can?”

Ha ha ha ha ha — yes, I am well-acquainted with that “canned” humor, Pam Adamo.

And now, a word about the elephant in the room — the real PAM in the can.


Pam Adamo from Grant City, not PAM in a can. (Courtesy of Pam Adamo)


The cooking spritz came about in the late 1950s, the brainchild of Leon Rubin and marketing man Arthur Meyerhoff Sr. Hence this stuff — the product of Arthur Meyerhoff — became the acronym “PAM,” a zero-calorie cooking convenience now put out by ConAgra.

But for Pams everywhere all Hazes broke loose with decades worth of marketing campaigns. In the 1960s, as outlined by ConAgra, some mad ad man broadcasted, “When you pick up a pan, spray it with PAM.” In the late 1970s, we learned from personalities like Carmelita Pope that “PAM stops food, even casseroles, from sticking.”

Things got a little tacky for us Pammers in the 1980s when someone turned up the marketing heat on the stuff. On the less harmless side with flute music in the backdrop we heard commercials that said, “Start with PAM…Your recipes turn out right!”

That was encouraging.

Years later, we were reminded around Christmas that “PAM really cooks for the holidays” and “PAM just kind of works its magic and lets the food get all the attention.”

Then, there was the commercial where two brothers personified the PAM. “It” became a “her.”

“Whoa. How’d you make lemon chicken?” says one brother to another.

“PAM,” answers the other.

“She got a sist-ah?” deadpans the first bro.

In a dramatic and ugly turn of events for us Pams, a commercial break for MacGyver in January 1987 featured a rap song in which the company sales pitch was conveyed.


I was a sophomore at St. Joseph Hill Academy when my friends adopted the song with the gestures to match: “Have you thought about PAM? You can use it on a grill. You can put it on a mold. When you’re frying it’s a thrill!”


And there was also this ditty, thanks to the Pammy jam: “You should think about PAM. There’s none of this or that. When you’re cleaning up your pans you get it done in no time flat.” It’s catchy, I’ll admit, but not Pam-tastic for the Pamelas of the planet.

What is it like growing up as a “Pam?” Somehow there’s always a food association — it’s just innate.


Pam Carlton and Skippy, a nickname she received in camp because of her love for peanut butter. (Staten Island Advance/Pamela Silvestri)

“First there was that time in camp there was more than one Pam in my bunk,” recalled Pam Carlton of West Brighton. “So they had to distinguish between us. I like peanut butter. So they called me ‘Skippy.’ My mother was not happy. But it worked for the summer I was in camp.”

A retired EMS worker, Pam Carlton said, “On the ambulance, we used to have to carry 2-Pam which is used for organophosphate poisoning. So they would sometimes call me 2-Pam. Everyone had a nickname on the ambulance. Another one of mine was ‘Spam-inator.’”

Yeah, I got the SPAM thing, too. But Pam Carlton did not earn such a meaty label until adulthood.

She reflected on the war-time protein and said, “I never really was called ‘SPAM’ because my Dad served in Korea and he vowed it would never be on our lips.”

As a lifelong Pam-Pam and an occasional Pam-a-lamma Ding Dong, people don’t always hear “Pamela” or “Pam” upon introductions. They hear “Ann” or “Fran” or some rhyming derivation of the shortened name. So I just go with it and say, “It’s Pam…like the cooking spray.” And that sometimes gets a laugh.

My name originally was supposed to be Pasqualina which means “little Easter” in Italian. That was my Dad’s suggestion. But my Mom — the one who signed the birth certificate — was not having that. So here I am: Pam I am.

Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].

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