The Magazine

The Day the Twinkie Died

Dec 10, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 13 • By MATT LABASH
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Just as everyone remembers where they were when JFK was shot (I was in Heaven with Jesus and Buddy Holly, still unborn), it will similarly be impossible to shake the memory of where you were on the day that Hostess died. I was in my car, listening to public radio. The news of 18,500 people losing their jobs, not to mention the demise of an American institution—one that predates FM radio, the ballpoint pen, radial tires, and rock ’n’ roll—came almost irreverently. Torn between disrespectful Twinkie jokes and food-scold haughtiness, the faux-nostalgic announcers were unable to invoke crushing grief, the only kind called for on this tragic day. The kind they’d feel if, say, This American Life went on hiatus, or the Hipster Snack Emporium stopped selling wasabi peas.

Twinkie in a Hearse

Chris Gash

But being a man of action, I had no time to grade people on their grieving. As I’m pretty sure it says in the Bible somewhere, “There is a time to mourn, and a time to hoard.” Though we were on an errand to pick up my 13-year-old son Luke from a school function, I redirected the family SUV to cruise by local grocery and convenience stores, knowing the shelves would get licked clean of remaining Hostess product by sentimentalists and eBay flippers.

In store upon store, the hyenas had already ravaged the carcass. The half-empty shelves were a cruel reminder of the empty years that lay ahead, with only Hostess’s thick-ankled stepsisters left to fill the void: Mrs. Freshley’s Chocolate Bells, or Little Debbie’s Zebra Cakes, or the crème ’n’ cardboard offerings of TastyKake, an ironically named company that bakes even worse than it spells.

On the ride between stores, as if being taunted by the fates, we saw a Hostess truck pass. My 10-year-old-son Dean banged on the window. “Pull over!” he mouthed to some soon-to-be-out-of-work Teamster. But the driver either ignored him, or couldn’t see out of his own tunnel of darkness. The paltry take from our Hostess run: four Suzy Qs, four Twinkies, two boxes of Hostess CupCakes, and a lonely lemon pie. Not a lot when you figure it has to last forever.

We never stock the stuff at home, mind you. My fitness-conscious wife claims that “it turns me into a bad person.” In the past, she’s taken to hiding the Hostess behind more health-centric foodstuffs, depriving the children of a chance to ransack it before she does. While the pundit postmortems have seen everyone putting on their team jerseys and playing their dutiful parts—liberals blaming the company’s demise on vulture capitalists, conservatives faulting spoiled unions—there has been a prevailing sentiment by most windbags that part of the problem was that the country has moved on from Hostess’s brand of naked decadence.

Like most windbaggery wisdom, this is crap, as anyone who has waddled out of the office and bumped into his fellow fat Americans (who on average consume more than 156 pounds of added sugar every year) would know. That was the beauty of Hostess. It was what it was and made no apologies for itself. Yes, it could surprise you with its nutritional well-roundedness: filling your sugar quota, while stealthily providing 9 percent of your daily recommended sodium.

But it wasn’t snacking-as-cultural-signifier. It carried none of the red-velvet froufrou-ery that has caused every hipster in retro ranch-hand shirt and dork-glasses to open annoyingly named cupcakeries (“Cake My Day”), where they serve confections impishly decorated like iPhone apps, with so much icing you need to eat it with a steak knife. No, Hostess was a clean, crisp Budweiser in a land of overcomplicated microbrews. It was simple and honest. It didn’t come with a “story.” It was something to be bought surreptitiously, thrown in a 7-Eleven bag, and wolfed down in the parking lot in shame, as God intended us to take our earthly pleasures when He bounced us from The Garden, thus enhancing the enjoyment. 

With our own stash quickly decimated, my family gathered around the table for what Dean called “The Last Supper.” Online recipes now proliferate, instructing you how to make your own. But it won’t be the same. The sugar and wheat flour are doable. But how to lay hands on the monocalcium phosphate, the locust bean gum, the Polysorbate 60—the chemical alchemy that yielded the old black magic? 

As Dean put down his last cupcake while blowing “Taps” on an imaginary bugle, my wife asked Luke if she could have a bite of his Twinkie. I suggested she was some kind of monster, infringing on the last Twinkie he will ever know. “You make Hostess not fun,” she snapped.

Guilty. All deaths in the family are un-fun ones.


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