Oh no!! Another American food icon disappearing from the supermarket shelves? I couldn’t believe it when I read the news yesterday. The Hostess Company Broke? How could they let this happen? “Twinkies” the snack pastry that I grew up with (another secret pleasure that I indulged in from time to time like my childhood friends) sometimes dubbed “the cream puff of the proletariat” was going the way of the Dodo bird…that is to say was going to become extinct. Incredulous…! All because of the incapacity of the trade unions to negotiate a deal with the Hostess company, the bread company based in Sacramento, California that was on the verge of bankruptcy because of a lack of money…or “dough” (dough is also the staple product that they were making…).
Created in 1930 with “Wonder Bread” (that miraculous soft and cloudy bread that we used to eat and that was probably not the best
thing for our nutrition…but oh so heavenly toasted!) Twinkies really took off as an American lunchroom staple for baby-boomers like myself. They were just the right size for our metal lunchboxes and our Moms used to pack them right beside our bologna our tuna fish sandwiches as an indication that she knew what it was like to eat “boring stuff” and to think of her kindly. As all school kids ate them, along with Ding Dongs and Ho Hos other after school favorites (don’t look at the ingredient label if you don’t want to have nightmares), they became a cultural firmament right along Coca Cola and Mickey Mouse.
Twinkies have even been depicted in movies such as “Die Hard” (1988) where a cop buys a pack of twinkies and says “they’re for my wife”. In the Pixar animated movie “Wall-E” (2008), where we find ourselves hundreds of years in the future, the only surviving creatures are cockroaches and Wall-E’s favorite food which is a pack of Twinkie’s! (Don’t ask me how they survived the nuclear blasts and annihilation as their supposed shelf life is only 2 to 3 weeks!…) Junk food heaven!
So who developed the Twinkie? Probably an Illinois baker called James A. Dewar who worked for a bakery called “The Continental Baking Co.” First they produced a cream-filled strawberry shortcake and when strawberries were in short supply (their season is rather limited), they turned to bananas. When World War II food rationing made procuring bananas difficult, they added vanilla (it was probably the real stuff back then…!). And the vanilla flavor being the easiest to add…and probably the most popular…became the signature flavor added to the cream (well…synthetic cream that is…!).
And what about the name? Dewar had seen a billboard in his neighborhood advertising “Twinkle Toe Shoes”. He thought it was a catchy name so he shortened it to “Twinkie” so that kids would remember it more easily according to an interview he gave in 1980 (yes…some American journalists were interested in finding out where this American symbol gave from).
Well…Twinkies survived the Depression, 3 major wars, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, and numerous bankruptcy proceedings that the Hostess company was forced to go through to stay in business. But ultimately…like in many companies…the unions did them in (finished them off). The managers just weren’t able to negotiate a new wage and benefits package for its 18,500 employees who went on strike weeks ago when the bargaining fell through. The banks will probably take over Hostess and sell off their brands in an “asset sale” one by one…including Twinkie!
When people heard that Twinkies would no longer be for sale, people made a mad dash for the supermarkets and swooped up the remaining packages that had been left unsold. Rumors of Twinkie hoardings have been echoed throughout the country…maybe we’ll be able to eat some in a couple of hundred years?
Interestingly enough, a French chef, Roland Mesnier, who served as White House pastry chef for 25 years declared that “Twinkie is not a bad product. There’s worse products out there. Twinkies are as much an American icon as Ford motor vehicle or other American ingenuity.” From the mouth of a Frenchman who epitomizes gastronomy, that really takes the cake! He added that the company, or whoever takes over the brand, could improve on the Twinkie: “How about having a Twinkie with different citrus cream inside—lime, orange, lemon, with pretty packaging, cheerful and colorful?…or what’s wrong with a chocolate Twinkie?….”
But…gulp…maybe it was Twinkie’s time? More and more parents are giving their kids more healthful snacks and let’s face it…Twinkie didn’t make the grade. It was really an industrialized cake with lots of artificial ingredients that just couldn’t compete with other more “whole” and “organic” products which are the trend today.
It’s still going to be strange the next time I set foot in a 7 to 11 store and the pastry shelves are empty of the brands I grew to love and that symbolized Americana…it’s going to be hard and make me even more nostalgic for a bygone era.
Lots of twinkie die-hards are asking for donations to keep the brand alive. Some have made another play on words: “dough-nations can be made to the organization of your choice. Why not the American Diabetes Association?”
Let’s listen to the Young Turks discussing this issue. They mainly blame the “Teamsters Union” and the “Bakers Union” for not being able to reach a compromise (yeah…unions are getting a bad rap in America today probably based on the state of the economy and unemployment) and of course the Equity Firms for making the Hostess Company build up too much debt. (The Young Turks (TYT) is a progressive Internet news and political commentary program via live web stream and YouTube, as well as a weeknight news and political commentary program airing on Current TV. It was Sirius Satellite Radio’s first original talk programming: