Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Twinkie, Twinkie, little star

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WASHINGTON -- The Return of the Twinkie is modern America in a see-through wrapper: decadent yet indestructible, industrially processed, relentlessly hyped, and raised from the abyss by a shipload of cutlass-swinging Wall Street billionaire corsairs, while 15,000 unionized bakers and drivers join 20 million of their overfed countrymen on the unemployment line.

The little golden cake with its cream-like filling -- 39 grams and 140 calories of high-fructose corn syrup, bleached flour, "vegetable and/or animal shortening," polysorbate 60, sodium stearoyl lactylate, Yellow 5, Red 40, and nostalgia -- returns to supermarket and convenience-store shelves across the United States on Monday after an eight-month hiatus during which its manufacturer, Hostess Brands, "won" a decade-long battle with its defiant workforce by turning off the ovens and going out of business.

Culinary eulogists decried the passing of a spongy national touchstone, while bereaved snackers turned their stomachs toward Tastykake "Dreamies," Blue Bird "Bingles," Safeway "Snack Artist Cr®me Cakes," and other look-alike treats. Enterprising vendors sold $4 10-packs of aging Twinkies on eBay and Amazon for as much as $50.

Meanwhile, the vital organs of the deceased corporation -- Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, Sno Balls, etc. -- were surgically removed, cleansed of labour-union infection, and sold in a single-bidder auction to the 95th-, 243rd-, 244th-, and 377th-wealthiest persons in the United States, according to the latest Forbes Magazine list.

"When Hostess left the market last year, people were in a state of mourning," Rich Seban, president of the new Hostess, wrote to me in an email. "The social-media universe erupted with emotional tweets and posts from consumers who couldn't fathom a world without Hostess snack cakes and rushed to stores to get the last boxes of product. There was no question that consumers wanted the products they knew and loved back."

The grieving has ended -- 50 million Twinkies, frozen to extend their notorious shelf life to six weeks and beyond, are to be shipped to 100,000 stores by the end of July. None of those stores is in Canada.

The city of Emporia, Kan., on the other hand, will herald the renaissance with a Twinkie Festival that is to include prizes for the person who best costumes him or herself as that high-cholesterol cowboy, Twinkie the Kid.

The Hostess bakery in Emporia was shuttered in the bankruptcy, leaving 500 Kansans out of work. According to the Emporia Gazette, the plant is to reopen this summer as the new firm's "flagship" with 250 employees. U.S. President Barack Obama would call this "putting Americans back to work."

Selected as "an object of enduring American symbolism" and placed in the National Millennium Time Capsule by the not-yet-vegan President Bill Clinton in 1999 -- unless he gobbled them when nobody was looking -- the Twinkie has jostled for space in the American fat-bomb hall of fame since the 1930s with Devil Dogs, Yodels, Moon Pies, and RingDings.

In Maine, a single Twinkie has been preserved under glass in a high school chemistry classroom since 1976. In California, the so-called Twinkie defence was used in a murder trial as evidence of the defendant's diminished self-control, even though it never was alleged he had eaten even a single one of the actual cakes.

"Diet mavens may balk, but you could do a lot worse these days," publicist Hannah Arnold acknowledged in 2005 in her introduction to The Twinkies Cookbook, which includes recipes for Twinkie Burritos, Twinkie Sushi, and Pigs in a Twinkie. Five years earlier, the company had weathered a strike by the Teamsters, only to declare bankruptcy (for the first time) in 2004. Then came the mortal 2012 standoff with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union, among others.

In the BCTGM News, the union's president, David B. Durkee, called the final offer from Hostess Brands "a disgraceful contract offering poverty-level wages."

As for Canadians, you will have to repair to Emporia, Kan., or to emporiums closer to the border such as Northdale Oil & Propane in miniscule Neche, N.D., a few inches south of the Manitoba line.

"When people come across the border for cheap gas and smokes, what else do they stock up on?" I asked the clerk who answered the telephone there, one day last week.

"Corn nuts," the man replied. "Corn nuts, mr. Goodbar, and Pearson's Salted Nut Roll."

To this delectable manifest, come Monday, Canadians can add the resurrected Hostess Twinkie, while, south of the border, a nation loosens its extra-large belt a notch.

 

Allen Abel is a Brooklyn-born Canadian journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2013 A9

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