A war won with Spam

Hormel Spiced Ham, the “father” of Spam, was created in 1927 as an inexpensive luncheon meat to help housewives stretch their budget dollars. But when the combination of cheaper competition and the Great Depression caused sales to drop, company president Jay Hormel decided in 1936 to relaunch the product with a glitzy marketing campaign and a new name.

At the New Year’s Eve party held at his home he announced a name-the-product contest with the prize winner receiving $100. The 65 guests attending had to “purchase” their drinks by completing a contest entry. Hormel recalled, “Along about the third or fourth drink they began showing some imagination.” Finally, the butler brought to Hormel a sheet of paper containing the word “Spam.”…

With the signing of Lend-Lease in March 1941, shipments of Spam were included in the aid transported to Great Britain and the Soviet Union. It was gratefully accepted by both the military and civilian populations…

When America entered the war, Spam became both the boon and bane of troops. Because it was so easy to transport in large quantities, and had a long shelf life, tons of it—ultimately more than 150 million pounds—accompanied them. Though the services purchased luncheon meats made by other companies, all looked alike. As Spam was the most famous of them, all such meats came to be called Spam. It wasn’t long before the troops, seemingly served Spam three times a day, seven days a week for the duration, got thoroughly sick of the stuff.

Now Jackson had his acorns
And Grant his precious rye;
Teddy had his poisoned beef —
Worse you couldn’t buy.
The doughboy had his hardtack
Without the navy’s jam,
But armies on their stomachs move —
And this one moves on Spam.

—Anonymous World War II poem

Musical jobs between government and corporations still the favorite dance in DC

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Pilot programs and speed-up started in 2002

In 2004, Elsa Murano stepped down from her post as chief of the US Department of Agriculture division that oversees food safety at the nation’s slaughterhouses. Two years later, she joined the board of directors of pork giant Hormel, a company that runs some of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses. Murano received $237,000 in compensation for her service on Hormel’s board in 2014 alone.

This is a classic example of the “revolving door” that separates US government regulators from the corporations they regulate. It’s hardly the most shocking thing I gleaned from the whistleblower-protection group Government Accountability Project’s recent exposé of conditions at three hog-slaughter facilities associated with Hormel. But it’s interesting to think about in light of GAP’s allegations, found in sworn affidavits filed by four USDA inspectors stationed in Hormel-owned plants. Three of the inspectors chose to remain anonymous; the fourth, Joe Ferguson, gave his name.

Their comments focus on three Hormel-associated plants, which are among just five hog facilities enrolled in a pilot inspection program run by the USDA. In the regular oversight system, USDA-employed inspectors are stationed along the kill line, charged with ensuring that conditions are as sanitary as possible and that no tainted meat ends up being packed for consumption. In the pilot program, known as HIMP (short for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-based Inspection Models Project), company employees take over inspection duties, relegating USDA inspectors to an oversight role on the sidelines.

What’s more, the HIMP plants get to speed up the kill line—from the current rate of 1,100 hogs per hour to 1,300 hogs per hour, a jump of nearly 20 percent. The five plants rolled out the new inspection system around 2002, USDA spokesperson Aaron Lavallee said. That’s when Murano, now on the Hormel board of directors, ran the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. If the privatization-plus-speed-up formula sounds familiar, it’s because the USDA ran a similar experimental program for chicken slaughter for years. After much pushback by workplace and food safety advocates and media attention (including from me), the USDA decided not to let poultry companies speed up the kill line when it opened the new system to all chicken slaughterhouses last year…

All four affidavits offer blistering critiques of the hog version of the pilot program. Three themes run through them: 1) company inspectors are poorly trained and prepared for the task of overseeing a fast-moving kill line involving large carcasses; 2) company-employed and USDA inspectors alike face pressure from the company not to perform their jobs rigorously; and 3) lots of unappetizing stuff is getting through as the result of 1) and 2)…

…The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, of course, continues to defend the pilot program. But then there’s its cozy ties to industry—in addition to Murano’s leap to Hormel, FSIS’s then-chief of staff flew the coop to the National Turkey Federation in 2011, and another high official bolted to work for meat processor OSI Group just this month. Given the tasty meat-industry opportunities that evidently await the USDA’s food-safety administrators, I take FSIS’s defense of the HIMP program in the face of these sworn statements with about as much salt as you might find in a slice of Hormel’s signature product, Spam.

RTFA for all the unappetizing details.

Our government’s standards for bureaucrats continue as the sloppiest excuse for honesty and integrity in the Western world. The revolving door for regulatory managers is as porous as the shuttle-dance between Congress and corporate lobbying.

Yes, I’m old enough to remember when American conservatives were as diligent as American liberals at fighting for honesty in government. While I’m not always certain of the level of dedication coming from the vaguely Leftish members of the Democrat persuasion – today’s Republican conservatives have clearly established their only target in so-called government reform is to bring government to its knees. A position already well-populated by most members of Congress before their corporate masters.

Not enough cholesterol, fats, in your diet? – Try a bacon-powered motorcycle!

It’s a well-known fact: bacon makes everything better. From martinis and ice cream to filet mignon and asparagus, there’s pretty much nothing you can include this gift of the swine to that it doesn’t improve. Being that this is an automotive enthusiast site, you may be wondering: How does bacon improve transportation? Clearly it must, if the axiom quoted at the beginning is correct (and we’ve established that it is), but how?

For the answer, we turn to the crew from Hormel, which is a name you might recognize from the chilled meats section of your favorite grocery store. The Austin-based food empire has assembled a motorcycle that runs on bacon grease that would otherwise have been discarded, with the goal in mind of traveling from Austin, MN, to San Diego, CA, in time for the International Bacon Film Festival, which we didn’t know existed, but in retrospect, of course exists.

The machine started life as an EVA Track T800CDI diesel-powered motorcycle, hailing from The Netherlands, and a bacon-grease conversion was performed by the crew from CSE Engineering, who are accompanying the procession as it crosses the western half of the United States as part of a 12-person team that is filming and documenting the adventure…And rest easy this evening with the knowledge that bacon does indeed make the world of transportation a better place to be.

The best thing about diesel engines is that you can run them on just about anything greasy enough.