Sunday, November 16, 2008

SPAM: not just for breakfast anymore.

A couple of days ago, the New York Times ran a little article with big news: the economy is booming again! That is, if you happen to live in Austin, Minnesota and work for Hormel Foods, maker of the world's most mysterious, scorned, and yet oddly endearing and even beloved canned meat, SPAM. For Hormel workers, happy days are most definitely here again.

"Through war and recession," the Times reports, "Americans have turned to the glistening canned product from Hormel as a way to save money while still putting something that resembles meat on the table." And now, with millions of family budgets shrinking to crisis proportions as the economic depression recession disaster clusterfuck continues, SPAM is back, and in a big way: the Times reports that Hormel workers are cranking the cans out on a 24/7 basis and working all the overtime they want.

Now, lest we feel badly for all of the people ingesting this "glistening canned product," a trip to Hormel's online SPAM Museum will show that it's not just food, it's fun! (And it comes in lots of different delicious flavors, as the photo left attests.) If you linger on the main page long enough, you'll see various people in the photo do happy things like wiggle, dance, wave, and move their hands. With that warm happiness, you can move on to tour the SPAMMOBILE, where... oh, we wouldn't want to wreck the neat surprises there. Check it out yourself.

But wait — the SPAM Museum isn't just online! Since the price of oil has plummeted along with the rest of the market, families might be able to afford a couple of tanks of gasoline and head up to Minnesota, where the city of Austin welcomes visitors with signs pointing to the physical SPAM Museum, a renovated former K-mart store (sometimes, pop culture just writes itself) across the street from Johnny's SPAMarama Diner.

Now, it should be noted that, at about two-fifty a can, SPAM can still be a little on the pricey side for those needing to stretch the last remaining paycheck really far. If that's the case, then Potted Meat Food Product, a dollar cheaper, comes to the rescue. This is different from SPAM, which is made primarily from pork shoulder, a tasty and desirable part of the pig, and ham. That's it: pork and pork. Potted Meat Food Product, on the other hand, is made of mechanically separated chicken, beef tripe, partially defatted cooked beef fatty tissue, beef hearts, and partially defatted cooked pork fatty tissue. (Yes, think about that last one.)

Because this stuff is just so fascinating at all levels, WB bought a can of it in 1989 and put it on the office bookshelf. The can traveled to three more jobs and three more offices, and was last seen sometime around 2001... with nary a spot of rust or leaking seam. After 12 years, it was as pristine as the day it came home from the store. But notice that it sat unopened for that decade-plus, so we have no idea how it tastes. For that, we turn to a review in California's The Wave magazine:

Featuring the texture of a soggy lump of chopped bologna and the distinct aroma of fresh kitty vomit, we found that potted meat clung to the palette like salty napalm, leaving a stubborn trail of aftertaste on our esophagus.

With that, we need to turn serious for a moment and say that if, in their unforgivable greed, leaders of world governments and finance systems have created a meltdown so bad that families have to eat this kind of vile crap, then they have a special place reserved for them in hell. On the other hand, Potted Meat Food Product would be a luxury for many people in hurricane-devastated Haiti, where children are being fed "mud pies"dirt mixed with salt and vegetable shortening.

Yes: dirt.

Realities like these make 78rpm rethink his childhood memories of having a father who not only genuinely liked SPAM but also enjoyed cooking for his kids when his wife had to work second shift. You know where that combination's going: SPAM and eggs, SPAM and spinach, SPAM and macaroni and cheese (which is also making a big comeback in the depressed economy right now), SPAM and toast, SPAM and potatoes.... This seemed, at the time, and for decades afterward, like child abuse. But clearly it was not.

Ah, what to do when harsh realities set in, other than to ask pop culture to work the magic that it works best and distract us? Back to the SPAM Museums! Back to the SPAM bus! Back to... Monty Python, with the best tribute ever created for that wonderful, gooey, scary, delicious pig-in-a-can:


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