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Save the Twinkie! 

by Sheri Boggs


It almost seemed like a joke, or a headline that had been invented by The Onion: "Judge orders IBC to keep making Twinkies," the Business Journal of Kansas City headline announced.


Good God, I thought to myself. This is my kind of news. I'd been following the story for a couple of days -- Interstate Bakeries Corp., the company that makes Twinkies, HoHos, Ding Dongs, Hostess Cupcakes and Wonder Bread, had apparently filed for bankruptcy. But this new development had all the markings of a bona fide emergency. Suddenly, I was picturing hundreds of white-hatted bakers toiling over vats of yellow batter and patiently inoculating tray upon tray of Twinkies with their three shots of cream filling. "Don't stop," a Twinkie foreman would shout. "We can't let the nation's supply run out."


But it wasn't a joke, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jerry Venters gave Interstate Bakeries (which now owns the Hostess name) nearly a month and the authority to borrow up to $50 million in order to save the beleaguered company. And in such uncertain times, I can't imagine a wiser decision. No doubt about it: A nation plunged into a Twinkie-less funk would make the Great Depression seem like a weekend in Vegas. So Venters did the only thing a man could do: He saved the very flavor of childhood.





Invented in the 1930s as a ladyfinger-like sponge cake with banana cream filling (yuck!), Twinkies went vanilla in the 1940s due to a World War II banana shortage. Lots of urban legends have sprung up about these tasty treats over the years, most notably that they have an unlimited shelf life and are made of "space age chemicals" instead of real food.


The official Web site (www.twinkies.com) has heard it all before and assures Twinkies fans that "yes, Twinkies are baked," and that the company goes through 8 million pounds of sugar, 7 million pounds of flour and 1 million eggs a year. As for shelf life, the company will only say that Twinkies can be frozen and will "keep for up to one month!"


It turns out that lots of people harbor a Twinkie fetish. Several restaurants in town -- including the Top Notch Caf & eacute; -- serve deep-fried Twinkies. And the MAC even sponsored a wildly popular "Twinkie-Fest" last year. While I don't claim to be a big fan, reading about Twinkies for several days does strange things to a person. Thus it was that my friend Alex and I were at the grocery store the other night and decided to buy a box.


"I'm writing an article, and I need them for art," I explained.


"You need a box of 10?" he asked. We briefly compared the standard two-pack at $1.29 to a box of 10 for $2 and agreed that the box was, indeed, the better value.


We took them home. We each took one and carefully shucked it from its cellophane wrapper. "Yum," I intoned, anticipating the buttery sweetness I remember so well. I took a bite. Grimaced.


"Sick!" I said around a mouthful of overly sweet, weirdly textured cake. I looked at Alex, who was downing his bite with an I-don't-want-to-eat-this face. Mystified, we had to wonder whether Twinkies had always sucked or if we had merely outgrown their sugary yellow magic.


And then it hit me how many times I'd experienced this before. How looking at my childhood home, it always seems dinkier and shabbier than I remember, how Star Wars seems unbearably lame when viewed from my now-adult perspective, how just the words "Cap'n Crunch" make my teeth itch and the roof of my mouth sore.





So I applaud Judge Venters for saving Twinkies. By themselves, they're only an ounce or two of sponge cake and cream filling (and not terribly delicious sponge cake and cream filling at that). But as a product, they're so much more, evoking the comfort and familiarity of childhoods long gone. So rock on, you little yellow cakes with your three identical navels and fillings of creamy, sugary goodness. Knowing you're still "out there" -- like Lucky Stripe gum, polyester pants and even Bigfoot -- makes the world a better place.





Publication date: 09/30/04

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