With all the hype about Mr. Atkins' runaway diet, you might expect meat maker Hormel Foods (NYSE:HRL) to be riding high on the anti-carb wave. True, the company has joined compatriot Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN) in billing itself as a "protein" business, but yesterday's first-quarter numbers show that the firm's greatest ally is the frenzied pace of American life.

According to management, the best performers are fully cooked entrees like its Jennie-O "So Easy" line and a product that could have been concocted by scriptwriters for The Simpsons: pre-cooked bacon. Mmmmm... pre-cooked bacon.

Our slothful attitude toward culinary chores helped Hormel turn in a 9% gain in per-share earnings, to $0.37. (Back out last year's unusual $0.02 gain and the uptick is an even better 15.6%)

The international division also contributed strong results, and not just because of the dollar's continuing plunge. Volume was up 47%, much of it attributed to the overseas success of SPAM. (I find that product's popularity outside the U.S. to be a cultural mystery matched only by the German love of David Hasselhoff.)

Grocery products continued to drag, however. In a rationalization so bizarre you know I couldn't make it up, management said it expects further challenges in the division due to last year's "war-induced pantry loading."

What does all this mean for stockholders? Management issued full-year guidance ranging from $1.46 to $1.60 per share. Split the difference, and at a share price of $27.50, Hormel trades at 18 times forward earnings. That's creeping toward Fool contributor Paul Jaber's recent estimate of fair value. Anyone hunting for a better bargain in prepared foods and pork processing might want to take a look at Motley Fool Income Investor selection Sara Lee (NYSE:SLE), which is more diversified and trades at a lower multiple.

Looking for SPAM prep tips? Join Foolish food hounds in our Recipes and Cooking discussion board.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson is morally opposed to pre-cooked bacon. But he's fine on canned meats, and he has no stake in any company mentioned above.