2008-12-03 / Opinion

Cheap Eats in Style Again

by Alex McRae

All across America, turkey carcasses are being scraped bare as the star of the annual Thanksgiving dinner is reduced to slices, slivers and chunks of what may be the last big meal of the year.

Even in tough times, Americans hate to part with holiday traditions, and Thanksgiving remains one of the nation's fondest. But now that the Pilgrims have been put out to pasture for the year, the Christmas season is rearing its expensive head, which means millions of Americans who are out of work or struggling to get by will be making tough choices about how to spend their shrinking Christmas budgets.

On Christmas Day, many Americans will be forced to choose between a big meal or a big pile of presents. Chances are that presents — even a smaller load — will win.

But that doesn't mean people will have to skip a traditional Christmas meal. They'll just have to adjust. In fact, the current economic disaster has already changed eating habits across the fruited plain. Which explains why so many people are smiling in Austin, Minnesota.

Austin is the hometown of the iconic processed meat product known as Spam. The canned meat treat was invented by the Hormel Company during the Great Depression to keep that generation's crop of poor and hungry from starving to death.

Times are tight again, and right now, the people at the Spam plant can't make the stuff fast enough.

It's hard to believe, but many people have never tried Spam. They've never had it fried, sliced, chunked into a tasty salad or straight out of the can... after the gelatinous covering of congealed grease and preservatives is scraped off.

Frankly, they don't know what they're missing. Lots of folks love it, and not just because of the price. Spam is also legendary for its shelf life. Buy a can today, and it will still be good decades from now, which may explain why Spam makers refer to their product as "Meat with a pause button" (No kidding).

Spam has always been a best seller in its hometown, where no fewer than 13 restaurants feature Spam dishes on the menu. But Spam's appeal is so great it even spawned a Broadway musical called "Spam-ALot." I think it's a story about how King Arthur's knights go on a quest to find the perfect canned food to serve at Round Table holiday dinners.

Spam is only now getting the attention of Donald Trump types, but sales have been soaring among the "less fortunate" since long before the word "bailout" became synonymous with Wall Street.

To meet changing consumer tastes, Spam chefs have already developed Spam Low Sodium, Spam with Cheese and Spam Hot & Spicy. If they add Spam Sweet & Sour and Spam Sushi, there won't be a market segment unserved.

Now that Spam has been discovered by mainstream meateaters, don't be surprised to see even more Spam products filling the shelves.

Military personnel have had a close relationship with Spam since World War II. Seems logical to expand the camo-wearing market to include civilian hunters, outdoorsmen and survivalists. Bet they'd slug it out with Sylvester Stallone for a taste of Spam-Bo.

New York delicatessens might discover a whole new market for Spam on Rye. And first responders working police and fire calls could get it delivered on a Spam-Bu-Lance.

Frankly, Spam sounds like the perfect solution to the world's food problems. If you're still not ready for Spam to replace that Christmas turkey, start small. Use Spam to update a favorite holiday dessert..the one named for a favorite snack of the Greek gods.

Take a minute right now to imagine that first delicious bite of Spam-Brosia.

(Send your e-mail comments to: alex@newnan.com)

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