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A meat legend

September 9, 2013
By Ellayne Conyers , Marshall Independent

Part II:

By the end of the war, the U.S. Army alone had purchased 150 million pounds of Spam, which meant that 90 percent of this product was going to the military. This food product, along with Hormel-produced Dinty Moore stew, Hormel chili and Hormel chunk meats, continues to be popular grocery items in today's market. Hormel Foods Corporation reported that its earnings increased 14 percent for the second quarter and 8 percent for the first half of fiscal year 2000.

Not only did Spam help feed our troops overseas during World War II, but it stayed in the European and Pacific theaters long after the American soldiers had left. In other words, the U.S. military and the lend-lease programs served as unpaid Spam salesmen. Spam spread became popular in countries whose residents did not have adequate refrigeration for meat products. It is estimated that, today, a little more than a third of all Spam, or 50 million cans a year, is sold overseas. Residents of Hawaii consume the most Spam per capita, 12 cans per household per year. Japanese-Americans enjoy a dish called "Spam musubi,' made with sushi rice and sauted Spam.

Austin, a small town in southern Minnesota, is proud of the notoriety (and wealth) this often-criticized food product has brought. Fremont, Neb., is the only other location where Spam is produced.

Over the years there have been many unfounded rumors about the nasty things Spam luncheon meat contains. Although public tours of the Austin plant are not permitted because of the fear of lawsuit and espionage (few American companies still give tours), they would find that the plant gleams with cleanliness, and there is no blood and no smell. Some residents of this small community claim that the only smell is that of money." The plant in Austin is a huge, low, sleek brick building. Because of modern-day mechanization, fewer than 13 people keep the Spam line moving at a rate of about 435 cans a minute.

About 1,600 of Austin's 23,000 residents work for the meatpacking plant. Another 1,000 people work at the Quality Pork Processors (the company created to handle butchering operations for Hormel after a strike in the mid-1980s). The name changed in 1993 from Geo. A. Hormel & Company to Hormel Foods Corporation. The corporation and the foundation that controls close to half of its stock, has helped build a hospital, library and senior citizens center.

Spam is probably here to stay and certainly has become very much a part of the "American dream" in the marriage of a product of promotional advertising. And now it has also become a part of nostalgia.

In 1991 the Hormel Company in Austin opened a small storefront company museum in a local mall. But it became so popular that the company had to open an expansive new SPAM-Centric Museum in 2002, right across from the plant.

"SPAMambassadors" roam the floor of SPAM, acting as guides. These guides are responsible for heating spam and serving it to visitors on toothpicks. A towering wall of SPAM, made of 3,390 cans, rises to the ceiling in the lobby. A small theater, its doors shaped like the face of a grinning pig, screens a SPAM video. There is also a SPAM Alley of SPAMburger Alley from whose ceiling is hung a SPAM patty 4800 times larger than life-size. An electronic tote board records the total number of SPAM cans currently produced: nearly 6.5 billion. 20,000 hogs are killed per day at the meatpacking factory.

When a visitor asked a guide, if Hormel had ever considered making a vegetarian SPAM. "Some people do ask that question," he replied, but "I tell them it's un-American."

I will continue to send Nut Goodie candy to my grandsons in New Jersey, but I will keep the Spam for myself.

SOURCE: "SPAM: A Biography" by Carolyn Wyman. "SPAM Museum" Internet




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