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Monday, November 19, 2012

Just Do It Over (11a)—Hostess Twinkies

One year ago on Round and Square (19 November 2011)—Fieldnotes From History: Contested Politics
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Just Do It Over"
[a] Hostess Memories RF
This is one of three posts in a brief series: Twinkies 1   Twinkies 2   Twinkies 3

I think back to fifth grade. I attended Randall School in Madison, Wisconsin, and enjoyed my three-block strolls to school with friends such as Joel DeSpain, Chris Holman, and Harold Morgan. They lived on my block, and we played, fought, contested, rejoiced, and...well, just did. We did stuff. 


You see, the 1900 block of Keyes Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin was a fascinating place back in the day. We held race-around-the-block contests, "golfed" in our back yard(s), and had heated political arguments. It all carried over for those of us in the class of 1971 (I am speaking of elementary school) to Randall School itself. Harold and I fought on the playground one afternoon, and got into big trouble with our teachers. Chris ate much more popcorn than anyone else in the room one afternoon, and Joel and I raced bikes up the "hill" on a Spooner Avenue slope that seemed like the Col de la Madeleine to us.
[b] Deep RF

Good times. There's nothing like elementary school. Sweet memories.

The funny thing that has come to light the last few days is how much the Hostess® company had influenced all of our lives. 

I'll bet that you didn't see this one coming in a little elementary school memoir, did you?

Well, this is my point. My entire childhood was enveloped in...sugar. Forty years later, I find this to be disgusting. Back in the day, I had no idea at all. Everything was sugary, from breakfast until dinner. Mom and dad did a pretty good job of avoiding the worst of the sugar-rush, and only participated in our society's domination by Neolithic gluten bombs in a combination of ignorance and habit. We had lots of meats and vegetables, but sugar lurked in every corner.

Was it ideal? Was it the way we think of flours and sugars today?  Well, nope. But it wasn't really their fault. Heck, they had been raised in bakeries (or close to them). 

No, they did their best. The real problem was a profound change in the eating habits of Americans. I had the grave misfortune to be just young enough to be influenced by—and just old enough to be conscripted intothe junk food army that was beginning to penetrate all spheres of the American public.
[c] Innards RF

This granular awfulness had many tentacles. We shall call them McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Shoney's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and, well, many other corporate strongholds built on high fructose corn syrup and refined flour foundations. When I say "sugary," I refer to an epidemic in world culture: the combined role of white flour and sugar to create a dietary combination that is good for absolutely no one. 

Bad stuff.

And this leads me back to fifth grade. My sister and I would walk home each day with various friends in our different grades, and crossed the street to see our house (where our dog, Zorba, was waiting for us as he peered out, grannie-like, from the ruffled curtains). But first, almost all of us would take a detour toward Feuerbach's Groceries on Monroe Street to purchase a little glucose.

We had visions of sugar-plums dancing in our heads, and soon processing in our livers.

We piled into the grocery store, and avoided almost everything except the "resilient sugars" (those that would outlast a nuclear bombing) aisle. This is not a technical term, as you might have guessed. It is a reality, though. We sometimes bought chocolate and other obviously sweet concoctions. More commonly, though, we satisfied our mid-afternoon hunger with something more spongy and substantial. This could be found, as we walked down Harrison Street and onto Keyes Avenue to our homes, in the substantial elements in our purchased bags. 

Ho-Hos, fruit pies, and, well, let's not kid ourselves—the ubiquitous Twinkies®.
[d] Packaged RF

My, oh my. There was nothing like my first taste of a Twinkie. The air-cushion goodness wrapped around creamy wonder was a thing to behold (and buy again and again, every time I had a chance). When I could not commandeer Twinkies (while on vacations, for example, and subject to the scrutiny of usually careful parents) I dreamed of them—daytime reveries lying on an imagined Twinkie pillow. So soooooft.

Even today, forty years after eating my last squishy little golden log, I am reminded of something my uncle Terry once said about cigarettes, while performing a magnificent trick that had him devouring a lit cigarette and showing it again—still lit—in a display of flaring virtuosity. It was one of the most dramatic performances I have ever seen.

I remember something else, though. Uncle Terry said "I had better stop right now...this tastes way too good." He had stopped smoking thirty years earlier, and even the little light-hearted trick brought him back within the orbit of addiction. 

That is how I feel about Hostess® Twinkies

I have refrained from eating them for four decades now. They are bad in just about every single way that that food can be bad for a consumer. They are overpriced (given their contents). More significantly, they are the worst kind of refined flour-and-sugar wellness torpedoes that could ever be imagined. They are diabetes in a plastic wrapping, as one of my friends pointed out recently. They are spongy goodness, to be sure (and that is how my fifth grade memory still packages it). They are also despicable sugars that have no role but to create a brief rush of energy, like a flame to a living room couch

This is tough stuff: memory (and sugary love) versus contemporary nutrition. 
[e] Tough RF

Let me add one more tough situation before closing, and this one really complicates the case—big time. Almost 20,000 jobs will be lost. This is a difficult twist in an uncertain economy, and I do feel very sorry for those who just happened to work for the Hostess® corporation. Bad stuff all of the way around.

As for the role of Hostess® Twinkies in my lifeand the increasingly sugary generations that have followed me and my once-youthful contemporaries—I have nothing but contempt for what this metabolic kindling has done to our culture.

Good riddance, Hostess® Twinkies (and assorted fruit pies, too). You have caused enormous ill, whether you planned to or not. These are not just empty calories; they are time bombs.

And yet, I can't stop missing you. We're just not right for each other anymore. Maybe, just maybe, this is the best do-over world nutrition could hope for.

This is one of three posts in a brief series: Twinkies 1   Twinkies 2   Twinkies 3

[f] Globalization, commodification RF

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