A Museum Devoted to Spam? Are You Spitting Me?
Austin, Minnesota is not Austin, Texas. Tornado-prone and the site of occasional flooding, Austin, Minnesota is the home of the headquarters of the Hormel Foods Corporation, with its brands running the gamut from Dinty Moore (beef stew) to Cure 81 ham to Jennie-O turkey products to Chi-Chi’s salsa to Muscle Milk sports nutrition (Hormel purchased CytoSport). But perhaps no brand or product is as familiar as SPAM, the canned (tinned to Brits) pork found in many a home’s pantry. Whether you love it or hate it (and I tend to fall closer to the “hate” side of the SPAM-tinuum), it’s hard to deny the weird appeal of this stuff. Introduced in 1937, this canned meat helped sustain troops in World War II and stretched the food budgets of many families. Today SPAM is sold in many countries around the world. Additionally, you can find myriad varieties of SPAM—Classic, Chorizo, Lite, Jalapeno, and Teriyaki are but some.
Which brings me to the SPAM Museum. Located in Austin, practically across the street from Hormel, the museum is Hormel’s tribute to an iconic product and its fans. The admission is free, but you’ll probably depart with your precious Benjamins in the gift shop. Upon entering, you are greeted by an employee who really, really, really LOVES his or her job. Apparently, these workers are called “Spambassadors”, though I prefer to use the term “Spamdroids”. Anyway, the staff is very friendly and they give you a printed guide to the museum, as well as recipe cards. And a couple of them also wander around with trays like waiters at a catered event: Would you care to try our classic SPAM? Would you care to try our chorizo SPAM?
The lobby features a sort of homage to the global reach of SPAM, with a background made of SPAM cans. A movie theatre can be found there, with surprisingly well designed doors that resemble a cartoon pig; inside the theatre, you can watch a reel of what must be every commercial for the stuff ever created.
Ooh, Tell Me More!
The museum itself tells the history of Hormel and SPAM—from its beginnings in 1891 to its current global reach. There are some hands-on activities for museum guests, such as a timed “pack your own can of SPAM” interactive display; a register will tell you how many cans were packed in the factory during the time it took you to pack a single one. For the record, it took me about 34 seconds to package a single can of SPAM, during which time over 230 cans were packed at the plant. I would suck as a Hormel employee, apparently. Anyway, the museum tour finishes with a screen playing the famous Monty Python SPAM skit. Then it’s on to the gift shop, where you can buy all sorts of SPAMables—baseball caps, beer koozies, mugs, kids’ toys, iPhone cases, even mints (not SPAM-flavored). Of course, you can buy cans of SPAM as well. I think the staff was a little disappointed because I only bought two packs of mints.
I will not be posting any SPAM recipes, as I don’t really eat the stuff. However, if you do, you can find some recipes here. Despite not being a fan of the stuff, the museum itself was fascinating (though they do conveniently gloss over any mention of CAFOs—confined animal feedlot operations.) And the staff are super-friendly and helpful. It’s pretty easy to get there, as it’s just off I-90. But I wound up returning just to get directions to US-218 South (I was heading to Iowa City next), which was considerably more difficult. Fortunately, the nice parking attendant gave me detailed directions (and noted that the return to 218 was “tricky”.) Would I recommend this place? Sure—it’s for anyone who delights in the quirky!
Bad News, Sad News
If you want to visit the SPAM Museum, you’ll have to wait until next spring (2016). It’s being renovated and moving to a new location in downtown Austin, Minnesota. So, readers, let the anticipation build up until you get a chance to visit the new and hopefully improved SPAM Museum!