By Daniel Meyer
The third-to-last of the nearly 40 ingredients that make up a Twinkie is listed on the package as “sorbic acid (to retain freshness).” It’s the only ingredient that comes with an explanation of its purpose, as if it’s essential for us to understand that this Twinkie is as good as it was when it was made.
While Twinkies themselves may not degrade much over time, their cultural weight certainly has. They’re no longer a lunchbox staple or an American icon, and as of last week (as Mark writes here) the Hostess company (maker of Twinkies) has filed for bankruptcy protection yet again.
James Dewar, a baker for the Continental Baking Company, invented Twinkies in 1930. He noticed that the machines and pans used to make the company’s cream-filled strawberry shortcake were only employed during strawberry season, so he conceived of a shortcake filled with banana cream that could be made and marketed year-round. So Twinkies were born out of the hard-and-fast limitations of seasonality.
Continental switched from banana cream — originally made with real bananas and real cream — to vanilla cream during World War II, when bananas were rationed. While the “original” version is occasionally reintroduced, vanilla “cream” Twinkies are the ones that charmed their way into the heart of American culture and diet.
In the ‘50s we watched Buffalo Bob Smith “make” Twinkies on “Howdy Doody,” clumsily combining the pasty white ingredients in a pan, and “alakazam presto” emerging with a pristine plastic package of “golden sponge cake with creamy filling.” In the ‘70s we let “Twinkie the Kid” lasso our children all the way to Twinkie Town, and in the ‘80s we learned that Twinkies were not only wholesome, but slightly sexy.
Read the rest of this piece here.
The news that Hostess filed for bankruptcy last week was met with nostalgic dismay by millions of baby boomers who lamented what they thought was the imminent demise of the Twinkie. Hostess, which emerged from bankruptcy just three years ago, has maybe 100,000 creditors, mostly labor unions and pension funds (one of which is reportedly owed $944 million) that represent the company’s employees. Its debt approaches a billion dollars, a lot by most standards.
Predictably, Hostess says that its competition has fewer labor restrictions, and that to be competitive they must “restructure” their labor agreements. Not good news for the company’s 19,000 employees, of course, though supposedly no layoffs are planned.
Read the rest of this column here.
By Suzanne Lenzer
In this era of public cynicism toward corporate America, it’s exciting to see a company, traditionally known for developing junk food delivery systems, trying to do some real good. Walking through the aisle of the local supermarket it’s hard not to notice these Hostess Twinkies: there’s a giant ogre on the package.
Admittedly, it’s “only” a co-marketing campaign to promote the new Shrek film, but still. These Twinkies aren’t like the traditional ones with that cloying white cream substance in the center–these appear to contain a cloying green cream substance instead. At last, a product aimed at encouraging kids to eat their greens!
How exciting it must have been to have to be a part of that product development meeting: “Hey, instead of just making sugar snacks that encourage childhood obesity and diabetes, let’s do some good, public service even. Let’s make the same #$!% but in green! We’ll be helping kids get over their fear of green food–parents will love it.”
Sure, some will say the executives at Hostess really just needed a way to help sell movie tickets–and Twinkies–but come on, that’s just so cynical.