Twinkie RIP

If you’ve spent any time on Facebook recently, you’ve most likely seen a number of comments, images and cartoons lamenting the loss of the most iconic junk food. Of course, I’m talking about Hostess’ crème-filled spongy cake better known as the Twinkie, which could disappear from the planet permanently if the company does not find a buyer after filing for bankruptcy earlier this month and announcing the immediate closing of all its bakeries.

Across the social media pond on Twitter, there were calls for a government assisted Twinkie bailout. The loss was seen as a sign that the Mayan calendar prophesy of the end of the world was indeed coming to fruition. Colorado and Washington state residents, where marijuana was just legalized, seemed to receive the news with horrific fears about how they’ll ever properly sate epic episodes of the munchies. Panic over the possibility of a Twinkie-less future sent consumers into stores, clearing out shelves of Hostess products in record time. Ebay had listings of boxes of Twinkies for as much as $10,000. As the eulogies piled up, so did the DIY it’s-not-really-junk-food-if-you- make-it-from-scratch recipes—vegan and organic options available, too—not just for the beloved Twinkie, but for all of Hostess’ products, which also includes Wonder Bread, Drake’s Cakes, and my once personal favorite: the chocolatey crème-spiraled Ho-Ho’s.

Since the announcement, advocates of healthy food have done their fair share of finger shaking at a country that loves its junk food. Obesity rates are still climbing, with CDC estimates that by 2025 more than 75 percent of Americans will either be overweight or clinically obese. Illnesses related to diet parallels our girth rates, too, with type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease topping the list of conditions afflicting Americans. The Twinkie epitomizes all that’s wrong with America’s food system: a genetically modified, highly processed, chemical-filled, sugary junk food that doesn’t really decompose. It’s death certainly does leave room for us to be hopeful that healthier food options will take its place—especially for our nation’s children—but it’s by no means a sure thing.

A baker’s strike at Hostess over unionization eventually led the company into bankruptcy and left more than 18,000 employees at bakeries across the country out of work just before the holiday season, was pinpointed as the culprit this time around. But Hostess has been sold several times since the 1980s, reports Forbes magazine and “The company filed for bankruptcy in 2004, and again in 2011.” The Wall Street Journal reports that there may soon be a new owner of Hostess products: “Flowers Foods Inc., a Georgia-based baker, announced it has renegotiated lending terms to allow it to tap additional cash, in what analysts see as a clear sign it is gearing up to buy assets owned by Hostess.”

For a food to stay relevant and virtually unchanged when competing brands are constantly reinventing flavors, sizes and packaging is nothing short of a task. If a brand can’t compete with the changing industry, they often revert to being a “classic” hoping that we love our nostalgia almost as much as we love our junk food. Remember what happened to Coca-Cola’s sales when they brought back “Coke Classic” after the “New Coke” fiasco? Sales skyrocketed. We see the insanity each year when McDonald’s unleashes its limited-time-only McRib sandwich. And even if Twinkies never completely go away, the threat of losing them will give the brand new life…a zombie type of rebirth, if you will. They’ll become harder to destroy, carving out a more demanding niche in the minds of consumers who struggle to distinguish between indulgence and necessity. 

Whether you’re cheering or weeping at the thought of life after Twinkies, the creamy center of this lesson remains unchanged: we are what we eat, or rather, Like Michael Pollan once reminded us in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, “The sheer novelty and glamour of the Western diet, with its seventeen thousand new food products every year and the marketing power—32 billion dollars a year—used to sell us those products, has overwhelmed the force of tradition and left us where we now find ourselves: relying on science and journalism and government and marketing to help us decide what to eat.”

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Gagbay