We are, as you may have surmised, way behind on our blogging, but we will finish out the trip! The wheels of literary archiving might move slow, but they do move! Besides, the moment we got back from the vacation, we were expected to “adult” again. You all know how that slows things down.
So, for this blog…. Well, our vegan or vegetarian readers may understandably wish to skip this particular post.
As we planned this trip, we left things very loose as to where we would travel, and what sights we would see. There was one place however, that, when Steve told me about it, I just knew we had to stop. It sounded like the classic Americana that this trip had promised.
The SPAM museum.
Yes, that SPAM. The meat product.
For those who want to know, SPAM means… well, there’s a lot of controversy about that. The company once said it stood for “Shoulder of Pork and Ham,” some say it is short for “Spiced Ham,” others say it’s “Specially Produced American Meat”. No matter what the etymology is, we’re all familiar with it.
I still haven’t quite figured out what tickled my fancy about seeing the museum – I’d eaten SPAM Musubi once in my life before this trip. I think it was just that it was so very American. Created by Hormel, it first hit the shelves in 1937, during the Great Depression, helping fill the need for inexpensive meat products. SPAM continued to fill a huge part in feeding Americans, particularly during WWII, and most US military engagements since then. Primarily because of the military usage in their rations, it propagated worldwide. Now it can be found in 43 different countries, and South Korea consumes more SPAM than any other country except the US. It also comes in 13 different flavors, although only 11 are available for order on their website right now.
Steve had stumbled upon the museum twenty years ago by accident. Meat processing museums were not on his “to-do” list, but it sounded so quirky, he had to take a look. Certainly it sounded quirky enough for me to want to see it as well.
We rolled in to Austin, MN on one of the windiest, and coldest days of our trip so far. I’m not sure what the wind chill factor was, but 5,000 degrees below zero wouldn’t have surprised me.
Apparently they had changed locations since Steve last visited, and updated many of the exhibits. Well, twenty years later, SOMEthing had to change, if not the actual product itself (I mean, SPAM is SPAM).
As with many places we’d visited on this trip, there weren’t many people there, which made viewing the exhibits much easier, and we could take our time and not feel rushed. Which was good because there was a lot to see.
Whether or not you like SPAM, you can’t deny that it has become a solid part of American pop culture. For a sense of how it’s permeated our society, take a look at that folder on your mail server that uses its name: SPAM (by the way, we’ve been trying to contact you about extending your car’s warranty).
Here’s another confirmation of the legacy of the product:
“Spam, spam, spam, spam,
Spam, spam, spam, spam,
Lovely SPAM! Wonderful SPAM!”
For many of you, that song is now stuck in your head. You’re welcome.
Now you might think that Hormel (makers of this fine cuisine) would resent such abuse of their featured product name. Nay. They celebrate it. In fact, there is an entire area devoted to the Monty Python sketch of the above song. And as a point of trivia, it was that Monty Python sketch which inspired the internet usage of the word SPAM.
But I digress. Back to the museum. As Steve had promised, it was, in fact, quirky. As you can see in the photos, the museum is a riot of color and engagement. But also extremely informative, but not in the way you might expect. It was less a museum about the making of SPAM than it was more about its place in history.
The interactive, touch screen areas, were wonderfully laid out and highly informative and they provided sanitized styluses for our use during the visit. The very first stop on the tour was a kiosk that allowed you to explore popular Spam recipes and email them to yourself. I might have collected a few…
From that point on, the museum went on to explore the history of the founding of Hormel and the history of SPAM worldwide. As I mentioned earlier, its use by the U.S. military in overseas conflicts exposed to the rest of the world and it caught on.
And, of course, there is a SPAM mascot; Sir Can-a-lot.
After we learned about many of the cultural aspects of SPAM we were given an opportunity to test our spam packing skills against that of the packing plant. I think I performed admirably. I don’t think I’ll be joining their team any time soon though.
The museum culminated in the gift shop – an explosion of SPAM merchandise ranging from the interesting to the absurd, with a healthy (unhealthy?) selection of spam flavors for the connoisseur.
Spam Musubi, for the curious, is an Asian (Japanese) Hawaiian fusion. Just like handrolls, the musubi begins with a sheet of seaweed. Next a scoop of fresh rice is pressed into a rectangular block and a teriyaki marinated slice of SPAM goes on top. I wanted to try making it myself, as it’s delicious. The museum gift shop was very helpful, as I managed to acquire a SPAM cookbook, as well as a Musubi mold. As a result – we had Musubi for Thanksgiving dinner. Not exactly traditional, but delicious nonetheless.
Back to the gift shop – the employees were absolutely the friendliest, most delightful people, enthusiastic about everything SPAM, proud of their museum, and helpful to a fault.
Now a museum dedicated to the marketing and proliferation of a meat product and the implied process to create it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I have to admit, we cringed a few times. But as far as quirky Americana is concerned? Yes. If you ever find yourself in Austin, MN it’s definitely worth considering a visit.