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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006
Letter from Austin, Minn.

Globe and Mail Update
Friday, October 18, 2002
From the Field
Marcus Gee Marcus


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Images from Austin

The tinned luncheon meat is sold in 47 countries.

The folks at Hormel obviously know their invention is an object of satire, and the museum plays it light.

Hormel has produced more than 6 billion cans of Spam since it came out in 1937.

p>Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam.

Sorry, but when am I ever going to get to write that again?

When I was in university, I used to be able to recite every word of the famous Monty Python sketch about the tinned luncheon meat.

(For those who don't know it, it features a café whose menu containing treats like Spam, Spam, Egg, Bacon and Spam, a woman who screeches "I don't like Spam" and a troop of Vikings who chant "Spam, Spam, Spam….").

So when I saw a brochure about the Spam Museum in Minneapolis, where I was reporting on the coming U.S. midterm elections, I knew I had to get there.

The home of Spam is Austin, Minn., about a two-hour drive south of Minneapolis on the wonderful American interstate highways. The biggest employer in town is Hormel Foods, maker of Spam, bacon (but not egg) and a host of other meat products. A year ago Hormel opened the Spam Museum to honour its most famous product.

Given that it's a corporate showcase, you might expect the Spam Museum to be a rather sober place.

But the folks at Hormel obviously know their invention is an object of satire, and the museum plays it light.

In one corner, a TV monitor shows a variety of comedians who have made fun of Spam. In another, a monitor plays the Python sketch in a mock-up of the Spam café.

A giant conveyor belt winds through the brightly lit building, carrying 3,390 cans of Spam. A giant spatula, in honour of grilled Spam, hangs from the wall. The helpful guide says it is 5.3-metres-long.

The Museum has lots of numbers like that. Hormel has produced more than 6 billion cans of Spam since it came out in 1937, the brainchild of Jay Hormel, son of founder George Hormel.

If you want the exact figure, there's a counter ticking off the number of cans produced. When I passed by it was at 6,021,204,142.

Hormel produces 44,000 tins per hour at its two plants, one in Austin and one in Fremont, South Dakota. The Austin plant is as big as 26 football fields.

Spam is sold in 47 countries. In the Second World War, the company sent 100-million cans to feed American troops. As a result, a tiny island in the Pacific used as military supply depot from the Second World War is named after Spam.

Spam plays a surprising role in American cultural life. There is a female singing group known as the 'Spamettes' and there is a guy who writes and collects haiku poems about Spam. He has a web site of course, one of dozens devoted to aspects of Spam.

Hungry for more? Visit the Spam Museum or go the Spam Web site. And, as you go, say after me: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam…

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Why did the magician's inquiry get nowhere? Too much smoke and mirrors. Jerry Kitich, Hamilton, Ont.