The Magazine

Hostess with the Mostest

Dec 3, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 12 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook admits it has not paid too much attention to Twinkies in recent years. Our taste in—what shall we call them?—recreational foodstuffs tends to run in other directions; and to be honest, we were never all that enamored of Twinkies in the first place. 

Twinkie

On the other hand, Twinkies have suffered something of a bad rap. Yes, they’re full of sugar and not especially nutritious; but they are made and marketed as a snack, not a balanced meal. And then there’s the “Twinkie defense.” Three decades ago the man who assassinated San Francisco mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk explained his actions at trial by claiming that his judgment had been clouded by deep depression. The defendant did not blame Twinkies, per se, for his diminished capacity, but chose to illustrate the depth of his personal despair by describing how, prior to shooting his ex-colleagues, he had subsisted largely on a diet of Twinkies. Indeed, the Twinkie defense worked—Dan White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, not murder—but that was hardly the fault of Twinkies.

Which brings us to their current ambiguous status: The company that produces Twinkies—Hostess Brands Inc., makers also of cream-filled CupCakes, Wonder Bread, and Ding Dongs—announced last week that it would shut down operations and liquidate its assets. Between changing public tastes and skyrocketing labor costs, Hostess has been in more or less continuous financial crisis for the past decade, and its management has sought protection by declaring bankruptcy.

The path to solvency, however, involved concessions from the two main unions—the Teamsters and the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union—on wages, pensions, and work rules. The Teamsters were willing to make some sacrifices, but the Bakers were not, and voted to strike. Hostess responded that the company couldn’t survive a strike, or even emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and so shut down operations, throwing 18,500 people out of work.

How all this will end is a matter of conjecture. The Bakers claim that Hostess management is exclusively at fault, but the Teamsters argue that the greed and intransigence of the Bakers (who represent just one-third of Hostess workers) have cost everyone their jobs. The current assumption is that competitors will purchase the Hostess brands and assets, and that Twinkies, as well as cream-filled CupCakes and Wonder Bread, will survive.

And they might. What intrigues The Scrapbook, however, is the extent to which this standoff between Hostess and its union unleashed a mammoth wave of public sentiment, an untapped source of deep public nostalgia for a product that has usually been the butt of late-night jokes. 

If you don’t believe The Scrapbook, go immediately to eBay, type “Twinkies” into the search box—and there you will find some 15,000 offers of Twinkies for sale in various quantities. Who says unions don’t stimulate economic activity?

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