by Jeff Fecke • America’s loss is Austin, Minnesota’s gain. As the economy plunges into the Great Recession, sales of what I affectionately refer to as the unofficial pre-packaged meatlike substance of the State of Minnesota are way, way up:
Through war and recession, 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. Now, in a sign of the times, it is happening again, and Hormel is cranking out as much Spam as its workers can produce.
In a factory that abuts Interstate 90, two shifts of workers have been making Spam seven days a week since July, and they have been told that the relentless work schedule will continue indefinitely.
Spam, a gelatinous 12-ounce rectangle of spiced ham and pork, may be among the world’s most maligned foods, dismissed as inedible by food elites and skewered by comedians who have offered smart-alecky theories on its name (one G-rated example: Something Posing As Meat).
Slumped in chairs at the union hall after making 149,950 cans of Spam on the day shift, several workers said they been through boom times before — but nothing like this.
Spam “seems to do well when hard times hit,” said Dan Bartel, business agent for the union local. “We’ll probably see Spam lines instead of soup lines.”
Probably will. SPAM is technically meat, for the most part, and it’s actually edible when fried to within an inch of its life. Just as Applebee’s is seeing its fortunes lag while Burger King’s sales increase, so we’re going to see less of a market for turkey, and more for SPAM. Heck, I myself have pretty much stopped buying frozen chicken breasts in favor of canned chicken — if you’re making it in a sauce, it’s not much different, and every little bit helps. And I’m not alone. Newspapers are explaining how to stretch your budget by using more rice and beans. (TVP is another way to stretch your meat, and some vegetarians eat the stuff straight. I don’t recommend it, but I’m not a vegetarian; mixed in with meat it’s not bad.)
Ultimately, SPAM sales are up because meat is expensive, and it’s getting more expensive. Cows eat corn (well, they do in modern times), corn costs more because it’s a fuel source now. It’s a lot more costly to make meat out of corn, rather than just eating the corn. After all, a cow needs corn to make duodenums and eyes and brains and to propel them around the pasture; that’s purely wasted energy. As the economy contracts, meat becomes what it’s been for most of our species’ history: a luxury item.
And so SPAM sales are up. And they’ll stay up, even as sales of hamburger drops. Frankly, it’s not a bad thing — SPAM is many things, but it’s edible. And given the history of our species, having edible meat available even to the poorest among us is truly a luxury. Or so I’ll try to tell myself tomorrow, as I try to mask the taste of the canned chicken breast with Szechwan seasoning.