July 13, 2013

For junk food fans, Twinkie is barren bliss

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Consider the much-maligned Twinkie, that cream-filled, golden sponge cake the color of genetically modified corn.

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This undated image provided by Hostess Brands LLC shows a box of Twinkies. Twinkies will be back on shelves by July 15, 2013, after its predecessor company went bankrupt after an acrimonious fight with unions last year. The brands have since been purchased by Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo Global Management. (AP Photo/Hostess Brands)

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TO FIND OUT where in Maine the Twinkie has been during his seven-month vacation, visit MaineToday.com to see his travel photos.

It has a shelf life as long as Hugh Hefner.

Food snobs sneer at its processed nature and blame it for everything from the obesity epidemic to climate change and the rise of Honey Boo Boo.

The Twinkie is part of our history and cultural landscape, such as it is, like the drunk uncle who comes to Thanksgiving every year.

It is a blank canvas upon which we project all of our fears and anxieties, especially those about food, without having to worry that it will fight back. It is, after all, just a snack cake. Really.

Connoisseurs of junk food recognize in the Twinkie's space-age, tubular form a piece of themselves. Biting into the soft cake, which always seems to have the texture of something you made in seventh-grade chemistry lab, brings a flood of memories of mother, of after-school antics, of lunchboxes filled with foods that did not give you allergies or condemn you to a lifetime of poor eating habits.

The cake is light, moist and sweet, and tastes like your typical yellow sponge cake, but with a soupcon of industrial aftertaste. The cream is so saccharine it will make your teeth hurt. (Have they cut back on the cream in recent years, or is that just another childhood memory that's proved to be warped through adult eyes?)

The cream is fluffy yet dense -- how do they do that? -- and not something that would make Martha Stewart-types proud.

There are different techniques for getting at it. Do you take a big bite and mash the cream and cake all together in your mouth at once, or do you go excavating with your tongue, digging out the white fluff like a West Virginia coal miner hopped up on sugar?

The cloying vanilla taste and greasy mouth feel is reminiscent of the sugary frosting you get on those grocery store birthday cakes that have Disney characters on them.

In other words, for junk food fans, The Twinkie is 4 inches of nutritionally barren bliss.

For the health-conscious, it is part of the "Standard American Diet," three words that have become as repulsive as the sight of Twinkie the Kid riding his stale snack cake into the sunset.

Nutritionally, the Twinkie is a time capsule. It transports us back to the days when we didn't much care what we put in our bodies, and convenience was king. Look at the list of ingredients, and it's easy to see why some people hate it so: Wheat flour (gluten), sugar (Mark Bittman says it will kill you), corn syrup (subsidized sugar), niacin (Hey! That's an essential human nutrient! What's that doing in there?), water, high fructose corn syrup (more subsidies), shortening (making a comeback, but still ...) and a long line of -oses and -ases that we can't pronounce and don't know why they're there.

The Twinkie has a reputation in legal circles, too. Remember the Twinkie defense from the 1978 trial of Dan White, the man who shot San Francisco's mayor and activist Harvey Milk? White's lawyer claimed he was so stoned on junk food like Twinkies that he didn't know what he was doing when he committed the crime.

Some people have tried to dress up the Twinkie, like Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman," to hide its humble, processed origins. Twinkies have been dipped in chocolate and made into wedding cakes.

The best known iteration is the deep-fried Twinkie you'll find at fairs in the Midwest. It's the red state equivalent of adding lobster to mac and cheese.

Attention, food police: Telling people they should not eat a Twinkie is like telling smokers they should quit cigarettes. Of course, they know you're right, but they aren't going to quit until they're ready.

Besides, it's complicated. Sure, if you eat enough Twinkies you'll get fat and maybe die of a heart attack someday. But undercooked, grass-fed meat or tainted organic veggies can kill you, too, Twinkie apologists will point out.

Don't you want to die happy?

Twinkies are simple.

But simplistic? Never.

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

Twitter: MeredithGoad 

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