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The Death of Twinkies: a misplaced American nostalgia

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Last week, Hostess Brands Inc. announced its liquidation sending the generally complacent population into a panicked frenzy. An American institution was to be no more, and a petition was hastily drawn up in hopes that President Barack Obama himself might nationalize the “Twinkie Industry” and save the nauseating yellow “cream”-filled mystery-sponge “food” from extinction.

A stampede to buy out the remaining supplies was inevitable, and soon Twinkies (overpriced when given away for free) were selling for around $50 dollars online to misguided miscreants trying to preserve a sample of a fading childhood icon. However, as an article posted to The Atlantic tried valiantly to explain, “The difference between liquidation and extinction is like the difference between a fire sale and an actual fire”...

“The Twinkie will almost certainly survive when some company buys it [at] a distressed price in the Hostess fire sale and continues to produce the awful little snacks. Among the leading contenders: Kellogg, Campbell Soup, and Grupo Bimbo -- the parent company of Sara Lee, and Entenmann's, and other snacks only somewhat less artery-stuffing than a Twinkie.”

In fact, just yesterday, USA Today reported,

“Hostess Brands and its second largest union will go into mediation to try and resolve their differences, meaning the Irving, Texas-based company won't go out of business just yet.”

And Fortune announced that Hostess already has a bidder in Private equity firm Sun Capital Partners.

Disaster, apparently, will be diverted.

Setting aside the obvious lamentations about which news items from the past week would clearly have been more worthy of government petitions and mass calls-to-action, one has to wonder what it is about the cherished Twinkie that anybody imagines is worth saving at all.

Weighing in at 9 grams of fat and 300 calories per 2-pack, these starchy abominations have long been the butt of jokes regarding chemlab-produced preservative-embalmed non-perishable junk foods. With health conscious-driven dwindling interest in such High Fructose Corn Syrup-laden anti-health snacks came a dwindling profit margin for Hostess, and good riddance to them. So why the rush to buy these diabetes-starters that are better left gone and forgotten? Many articles contain quotes from harried buyers and preservative-drenched pastry preservationists who all seem to reminisce in wistful tones about their first Twinkie so many years ago in some distant and innocent past. It’s a nostalgia, I would argue, that is misplaced and counter-productive.

Looking over the Charles River from Cambridge toward Boston at night, one can’t help but see the massive and garish 60-foot Citgo (Petroleum Company) sign blinking annoyingly at the other side. Surely, if anybody proposed placing such an eyesore on similar real estate today, the locals would be up in arms. However, if Citgo were to go bankrupt tomorrow, there would almost as surely be a sudden and impressive preservation movement for this unfortunate landmark. Ubiquity and longevity, it seems, have a certain threshold after which people, of their own accord, seek to maintain them for their own sakes, no matter how odious, ugly, or unhealthy the product. The Nostalgic American, coddled in dysfunctional womb of mass-produced uniformity, can be found ordering McDonald’s when passing through a new territory, rather than venturing to sample the local cuisine (or other examples of real food); Sitting in a Starbucks in Paris or Rome. They are troubled when removed from the Familiar, even when the Familiar long since traded quality for cost-efficiency.

Just as Boston/Cambridge residents would surely reject any modern attempts at befouling the river view with any new gaudy, flashing, brightly-lit advertisements, Twinkies, if introduced to the market today, would likely be met with disbelief and disgust by many of the same people scrambling to snatch them up now. To be sure, this is progress.

Just as the map is not the territory, the memorabilia is not the thing remembered. The past, it has been noted, is a foreign country, but it is a foreign country we all grew up in. In the case of Americans who grew up in the 80s, the past was a far more violent place, and the food there was absolute rubbish. Monsanto-modified and chemically augmented filth overtook the shelves of grocery stores along with massive quantities of artificially sweetened products that would give sharp rise to the not-so-mysterious “Obesity Epidemic”.

For my part, I look forward to a world in which the offensive Golden Arches, that universal sign of low quality and homogeneity, are nowhere to be found. If Twinkies are to die tomorrow, it isn’t soon enough... childhood memories notwithstanding.

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