Remembering an icon

When I was in grade school, the lucky kids had Hostess snack foods in their lunch. I remember one guy who would shove an entire Twinkie into mouth, partly to gross out the girls and partly to gloat over those whose mothers, like mine, packed boring things like carrots and celery.

Once I got to junior high, with its snack bar window, I could indulge, and that was when I made a terrible discovery – Twinkies just weren’t that good.  Oblivious to the dangers of breaking a filling, I generally spent my pocket money on corn nuts instead.  And yet, I will miss Hostess.  Not just because the cupcakes are good, and you gotta love any snack food called “Ding Dongs.”  Not just because the local Hostess bakery will close and thousands of people around the country will lose their jobs.

There’s something endearing about the little gold icon, an image of youth, when there were do-overs in terms of diet and teeth and most other things.  I would also argue that the same font of creativity that brought us Twinkies and Elvis impersonators brought us microchips and iPhones as well.  Say it loud and say it proud:  “Only in America!”

Hostess cared about its customers!  I remember hearing on NPR’s Science Friday that the company conducted experiments to determine how long you could safely nuke a Twinkie.  Seems that many enjoyed warming their Twinkies, but when left in the microwave too long, they would explode.  After careful research, Hostess reported that 60 seconds or less was generally safe.

The reputation of Twinkies was forever tarnished by the notorious “Twinkie defense” used in a sensational murder trial in 1978.  On November 27, disgruntled San Francisco City Supervisor, Dan White, climbed into City Hall through a first floor window, circumventing the newly installed metal detectors.  He carried a pistol and fatally shot Mayor George Moscone and fellow Supervisor, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man ever elected to California public office.

At the trial, White’s defense attorneys argued diminished capacity resulting from depression and a steady diet of junk food, most notably Twinkies.  In what is widely regarded as a great miscarriage of justice, the jury found White guilty of manslaughter rather than first degree murder.  After serving five years of a seven year sentence, White – “the most hated man in San Francisco history,” according to the Chronicle – committed suicide.

None of this was the fault of Twinkies, and yet the growing awareness surrounding the trial, that sugary snacks, like cigarettes, might not be in our best interests helped doom the little “Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling.”  I gotta confess, I long ago joined the bran muffin crowd.  I munch on carrots voluntarily now.

Twinkies were the brainchild of James A. Dewar of the Continental Baking Company, makers of Wonder Bread and the Hostess line of snack foods.  Machines used to make cream-filled strawberry shortcakes were idle when strawberries were out of season, so in 1933, Dewar used them to make banana cream filled snacks which sold, two for a nickel.  During WWII, when bananas were rationed, Hostess switched to vanilla creme, a move so popular they never went back.

Twinkies popularity grew in the 1950’s when Hostess sponsored the Howdy Doody Show. During the nuclear scare of the ’60’s, Twinkies were stored in bomb shelters, because according to Hostess, they “stay fresh forever.”  If Twinkies are as iconic of my generation as Howdy Doody, it’s also true that now we worry more about preservatives than thermonuclear war.

So long, little guy, and happy trails! Someday, enterprising history students will rediscover you in the course of their doctoral research in 20th century popular culture. They will come to know, as we do, that there are worse ways to meet the challenges of life than with a smile on your face and a golden bread-thing in your hand!

2 thoughts on “Remembering an icon

  1. Ironic that the same week marijuana use is legalized in two states, Twinkies demise is announced. Thanks for a fun and interesting post. I now know much more than I ever imagined I would about Twinkies.


    • I noticed that too, and still don’t quite know what to make of the “coincidence.”

      I’m also not sure what to make of this story grabbing my attention out of all the news I’ve been catching up on after returning from vacation…


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