Commentary: A world without Twinkies?

The Rock Hill HeraldJanuary 23, 2012 

Some say that in the event of a nuclear holocaust, the only survivors would be cockroaches. I am confident, however, that Twinkies also would survive, providing the roaches with something for dessert.

The looming question, however, is whether Twinkies can survive the recession. Hostess Brands, the 82-year-old company that makes Twinkies, filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday.

The Chapter 11 filing comes just three years after Hostess conducted a company-wide reorganization stemming from a 2004 bankruptcy. Executives blame expensive union contracts and pension debt; the Teamsters blame bad management.

Company spokesmen pledge that Hostess will continue to operate as normal. But market analysts say the company will have a hard time surviving after a second bankruptcy.

So, stock up on Twinkies - or Hostess CupCakes, Donettes, Ho-Hos, Suzy Qs and Ding Dongs, whatever your preference in high-calorie faux pastries. I never was a big fan of Twinkies but would eat the occasional Ding Dong - which, as it turned out, was usually a disappointment.

Here is how Hostess describes the experience of consuming a Ding Dong: "Ding Dongs are enrobed with chocolate coating with rich and majestic creme filling. You can't help but feel like royalty when you bite into one."

Here is what actually occurs: You bite into a waxy brown surface to get to a vaguely chocolatish, cake-like grainy substance underneath. If you continue, you encounter a white glutinous material of headache-inducing sweetness. You can't help but feel like a chump for ingesting something so fattening that tastes so mediocre.

While many may mourn the death of the Twinkie, its demise would be fitting. In a world now obsessed with eating only natural foods grown and harvested within a few miles of where we live, the Twinkie surely reigns as the epitome of processed, artificial, non-nutritional anti-food.

The Twinkie seemed "modern" in 1930 when it was devised as an inexpensive treat during the Great Depression. Those were the days when cutting-edge architects and designers were turning to sleek, minimalist forms, and the Twinkie, which looks like it could be extruded from a machine in a laboratory, fit perfectly with the modernist doctrine.

The Twinkie has remained an icon of sorts ever since. In 1999, President Bill Clinton put one in a millennium time capsule along with other items, including a helmet from World War II and a pair of Ray Charles' sunglasses. (My guess: The voracious Clinton ate the Twinkies and substituted pieces of foam from a stuffed chair for the time capsule.)

Nutritionists won't mourn the passing of Twinkies. Some analysts noted that Hostess must have been poorly managed if it couldn't take advantage of an obesity epidemic.

Twinkies and their caloric cousins no doubt played a starring role in that epidemic. When Twinkies were first produced, the filling was banana-flavored, so they contained at least one natural ingredient.

But during a banana shortage, Hostess changed the filling to vanilla creme, which is what today's Twinkies contain. Twinkies are nearly 100 percent empty calories.

I doubt there is any cream in creme. My hunch would be pulverized kelp mixed with hundreds of gallons of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial vanilla flavoring, then whipped to the consistency of caulk.

The cake part? I'm thinking sawdust, more corn syrup, an algae binder and Industrial Golden Yellow Coloring No. 3.

Hostess claims the shelf-life of a Twinkie is only 25 days. I think it must be more like 25 years or longer. A frozen Twinkie would have the half life of plutonium.

The aforementioned time capsule isn't scheduled to be opened until 2100. Who doubts the twin Twinkies inside (maybe Clinton didn't eat them) will be intact when they pop the hatch?

It is sad, in a way, that, if Hostess goes under as seems likely, few people will be around in 2100 who know what a Twinkie is - or was. I wonder who will have the privilege of eating those last two Twinkies.

Twinkie lovers, it's time to build your own time capsules. And make them roach-proof.

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