It was the snack cake heyday. Twinkies were being deep-fried at state fairs, doing cameos in movies such as “Ghost Busters” and “Die Hard” and being pushed by Spider-Man in comic books. A pre-vegan Bill Clinton even signed off on including Twinkies in the nation’s millennium time capsule (the two-pack was later removed and consumed by his council overseeing such matters for fear that mice would add themselves to the time capsule).
Sure, not all the attention was positive. Somewhere along the line, Twinkies became the butt of jokes, mostly about their perceived longevity (though Hostess staunchly maintains 25 days is the max). And not all associations were great. The so-called “Twinkie defense” came out of the 1979 murder trial of Dan White, whose attorneys included his junk food obsession among the evidence of his supposed altered state of mind.
Then something happened. Americans, who for decades had been tone-deaf to how food was produced, suddenly started paying attention, seeking out organic goat cheeses made from the milk of an unoppressed herd raised on a fence-free collective within a 20-mile radius of home. Even Doritos went artisanal, and an awareness of seasons and availability crept back into the culinary consciousness.
Products that had so prospered by their artificiality suddenly lost their allure. Even Hostess, which blamed its shutdown mostly on a labor dispute that hobbled its facilities, has acknowledged that consumer concern about health and food quality changed the game. People just weren’t buying snack cakes like they used to.
So what would we lose if Twinkies really did go away? From a culinary standpoint and from a nutritional standpoint, it’s hard to love the Twinkie (or pretty much any other Hostess product). It’s hard not to wonder how the American diet, the American palate, would be different if the parents of the ‘50s hadn’t begun a cycle of turning to processed packages as the default snack of childhood.
And does nostalgia alone justify the continuation of something so patently bad for us?
Of course nostalgia, even irony, tastes awfully good.
And I notice that a growing number of — dare I say it — artisanal bakeries are going retro, creating their own inspired takes on classic processed snack cakes. Treats like the red velvet “twinkies” at New York’s Lulu Cake Boutique. Real ingredients. So perhaps it isn’t time for Twinkies to go away. Or to stay the same. Maybe it’s time for them to go back to their roots. And then, we lose nothing.