There will be rapture in Austin, Minn. In less than two weeks, the 6 billionth can of SPAM will roll off the assembly line, and there's nothing snobbish culinary purists can do to stop it.
Sure, to many folks, SPAM is a joke, immortalized in Monty Python routines. But that doesn't mean the all-American mystery meat doesn't taste great, or so some say.
The modern-day obsession with health — the Tofuization of America — has taken much of the fun out of eating. "The land of the sugar-free and the home of the bland" might be an appropriate kicker as the Fourth of July holiday approaches.
But in Austin, better known in some circles as SPAMtown USA, the folks are acutely aware of the awesome, salt-laden, nitrate-packed power of canned pig meat. Pink Pleasures for the Palate
Go to any SPAM party — a SPAMboree, if you will — and you will see America's fat-laden traditions honored in true fashion. What other luncheon meat is immortalized in song, tossed for distance, and sculpted into art, while being eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner? And there will be many such events this summer.
SPAM parties are perhaps the only adult gatherings where guests are expected — even encouraged — to play with their food. You haven't seen it all until you've seen a SPAM rendering of Stonehenge. Modeled to scale. And edible.
For the true believers, the day begins with SPAMbled eggs and launches into a SPAMorama of blackened SPAMfish, Greek SPAMikopita, SPAM etoufée and other dishes to keep the plates — and the palates — pink. You can wash all that down with SPAM wine and top it off with SPAMoni sorbet.
"I must say I've had the SPAM brownies," says Shawn Radford, curator of Austin's SPAM Museum, which celebrated its opening last weekend with a dedication from Tom Brokaw. The NBC anchor wrote about SPAM's unique role as chow for Allied soldiers in World War II in his book The Greatest Generation.
That war generated a huge sales boost for SPAM-maker Hormel Foods, which provided 15 million cans to the military. From 1939 to 1942, the company's overall sales doubled to almost $120 million.
These days, Hormel boasts $4.1 billion in sales and the blue-and-yellow SPAM logo is now is trademarked in more than 100 countries. It's canned in Britain, Denmark, the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, where it's considered a delicacy to be served with a fine wine.
"One reason SPAM is popular in developing countries is a reason it was popular in America years ago — it doesn't require refrigeration," says Radford. "But even in other countries, it finds a place."
Inside the SPAM Museum, fans will find plenty to absorb. A 430-foot conveyor belt rattles around the ceiling, carrying about 850 cans of SPAM. Visitors can take a SPAM exam or can their own SPAM (not the real stuff). There's also a radio station — KSPAM — and a video screen that shows classic Monty Python skits slamming SPAM.
A SPAM-o-Meter tallies the cans of SPAM produced. Hormel expects to turn out its 6 billionth sometime between June 29 and July 3.
"It's inevitable at this point," says Radford. "But it's still a big deal."
With the world on the cusp of such a milestone, it's time to reflect upon the noble place SPAM occupies in U.S. history. Its rise parallels the geopolitical trajectory of the United States itself.
Khrushchev Contemplates Life Without SPAM
SPAM came to prominence around the time we were developing the atomic bomb. Since then, some people have stopped worrying and learned to love both.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and President Dwight D. Eisenhower each expounded on SPAM's effectiveness in beating the Nazis.
"Without SPAM, we wouldn't have been able to feed our army," Khrushchev said in his autobiography.
If war is hell and an army travels on its stomach, SPAM helped make it that way, Eisenhower suggested.
"I ate my share of SPAM, along with millions of other soldiers," he said in a 1966 letter to Hormel's then-chief executive, H.H. Corey.
"I'll even confess to a few unkind remarks about it uttered during the strain of battle, you understand," he continued. "But as former Commander-in-Chief, I believe I can still officially forgive you your only sin — sending so much of it!"
America's Paté de Foie Gras
Ironically, Eisenhower and SPAM's manufacturer shared the same advertising agency, BBDO, when the former general began his political career.
"I must say," Eisenhower wrote in the letter, "I believe they [BBDO] had a tougher time with me than selling SPAM to ex-servicemen. Happily, we all succeeded together."
According to Hormel, SPAM-and-bacon sandwiches have graced the menu at the congressional dining hall, giving new meaning to pork-barrel politics. And several biographies say Elvis Presley was (and still is, by some sightings) a SPAM eater.
After the war, as American influence spread on a global scale, so did SPAM. Though culinary revisionists might snub their noses at it, SPAM might be to the United States what paté de foie gras is to France. Americans purchase 3.6 cans of SPAM every second. That adds up to 216 cans a minute, 12,960 cans every hour.
The reality is stark: Either you or someone you love is hooked on the pink stuff. And that's not just a joke. That's lunch.
Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.