Spam in the place where I live (ham and pork)

Think about nutrition, wonder what’s inside it now (oh boy)

Spam in my lunchbox at work (it’s the best)

Really makes a darn good sandwich any way you slice it at all

-Spam, “Weird Al” Yankovic

On July 5th, 1937, Hormel Foods Corporation introduced Spam, a delicious and versatile canned pork product which would go on to gain massive popularity during the Second World War. Countless American soldiers owed their lives to SPAM, without which they may have had to resort to eating nothing at all, or, even worse, British food. Margaret Thatcher herself would later refer to Spam as a “wartime delicacy,” and Nikita Khrushchev said that the USSR wouldn’t have been able to feed their army without the canned mana. (A true authority, as the Soviets were well-versed on the subject of not feeding their citizens.)

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As one of Minnesota’s greatest contributions to the world, second only to Hormel Chili, it is only fitting that Spam should have its own museum in Austin where Hormel is headquartered. “It’s a wonderful balance of education and fun,” said Savile Lord, manager of the Spam Museum. “We’re not your everyday museum where you can’t touch anything once you’ve gone in — we’ve embraced the engagement aspect of an interactive museum. That doesn’t mean we don’t educate, though! We want people to know Spam’s impact on the U.S. and the world as the whole.”

You’re welcome to mill about the Spam Museum at your own leisure, but for the fuller experience you may opt to be led by a certified Spambassador. When I went, I first visited a booth paying homage to the Monty Python sketch where a middle aged couple is baffled by the inexplicable preponderance of Spam at their diner while a group of vikings refuse to stop breaking into song about the stuff. When the sketch debuted in 1972, the Hormel executives weren’t exactly certain what to make of Michael Palin screaming their product’s name over and over again in a strident falsetto — but they’ve since learned to embrace it.

From there I visited the Spam Around the World exhibit, seven booths illustrating Spam’s impact on the global culinary scene. I learned that Hawaiians are especially beholden to Spam, as without it they’d be virtually deprived of life-giving meat. The South Koreans love Spam so much that they have their own kimchi fried rice variety, and to this day make a special stew with it that they invented during the Korean War. The Japanese, in a turn of events that no one could possibly have predicted, have taken to serving Spam with rice.

Next, I engaged in the You Can Make Spam exhibit, where I played the role of the several automata involved in making Spam so that I could better appreciate the production process. There I frantically stuffed Spam-colored bean bags into cans, lidded them, slid them into the little cooker, labeled them, and stuck them into cubbies so they could be shipped to hungry people. I pray that robots never figure out how to write general interest magazine articles, because I am inept at making Spam and at one point I knocked a bean bag on the floor. If it was real Spam I’d have no doubt resorted to Lucille Ball tactics, stuffing it into my mouth in a desperate attempt to keep up.

I learned more about Spam’s proud military history, and about how my grandfather probably knocked back a few cans during his visit to France in the 40s. (He’d never return to Europe — “too dirty,” as he put it, although he admittedly didn’t see the place at its very best.) I saw the signed letter Eisenhower wrote to Hormel, thanking the Minnesotan company for their Herculean efforts feeding the troops. It was nice, too, learning that George Hormel promised his employees that their jobs would be waiting for them should they have volunteered to serve during World War II. It’s heartening to think about.

Because admission to the Spam Museum is free, you’ll be able to save your money for the Spam Gift Shop. There you can buy any one of the 15 varieties of Spam, including hickory smoke, chorizo, tocino, and the exotic teriyaki flavor. You can become the coolest kid in your cul-de-sac with a Spam skateboard, or madden your friends with envy by buying a pair of hand-painted Spam earrings. (If you’re planning your wedding ensemble, note that Spam earrings would satisfy a full half of the “something borrowed, something new, something old, and something blue” criteria.)

That’s not all that the Spam Museum has to offer, but it’s all you’ll get to read about here. If you’d like to go and learn more about the influential foodstuff and enjoy the rest of what beautiful downtown Austin has to offer, then I recommend you plan your visit at right now.


By David Scheller