America was shaken to its junk food core last week. What was more unsettling than Israel vs. Palestine or Petreaus vs. Betrayus? The demise of the Twinkie.
According to a Washington Post report last week, Hostess Brands is going out of business due to "debt, management turmoil, rising labor costs, and the changing tastes of America." Just like that, in the twinkling of an eye.
Twinkies, Ding Dongs and HoHos have been part of our culture for over 50 years. We have personal connections and stories connected to these oddly named iconic snack foods. The Hostess name itself conjures up the 1950's homemaker in her pert apron proffering a plate of igloo-shaped Snowballs. Polka dot-packaged Wonder Bread was as common as the thermos in 1950's and '60's metal lunch boxes.
Well, most lunch boxes. My mother was a home economist-turned-educator, and Twinkies and Wonder Bread were forbidden. My first exposure to hard-core junk food was when our second-grade class toured the ITT Hostess bakery. The mechanics of mass-production baking, noisy conveyer belts and hair-netted workers, the sweet yeasty mixed-up smell of dough, cake and frosting were as fascinating as Charlie's Chocolate Factory. Free samples of cupcakes and Wonder Bread lured me like Gobstoppers.
And so began my first lobbying effort: to convince my mother that Wonder Bread (builds strong bodies 12 ways) should be in my lunch box. "That cotton batting?" Mom countered with a look of repulsion.
I lost the Wonder Bread battle but Hostess cupcakes were part of summers in Maine: the iced reward after biking with a friend to sun-warmed smooth granite at the edge of frigid tidal waters.
The family of Hostess treats, including the patriotic red, white and blue wrapped Wonder Bread, was one focus of an early 1970's boycott against the Vietnam War by women's and religious groups. The ITT Corporation owned Hostess, but also manufactured electronic battlefield sensors and targeting devices for F-4 aircraft. No more cupcakes.
Fast forward to Nevada, 1990's. Nancy Peppin of Reno, Twinkie artiste-extraordinaire, painted the satirical triple-layer tribute to the immortality of the Twinkie in the nuclear age: "Vanilla and Nuclear Twinkies, 1992." Three identical yellowish coffin shaped images, the top one captioned "Twinkie," the middle, "Twinkie that sat at the Nevada Test Site from 1954-87," the bottom, "Twinkie after 10,000 years in a nuclear repository."
As I write this, a bankruptcy judge has ordered management and labor into mediation to try again to settle their disputes rather than scrap 18,000 jobs and the famous snack brands that are part of our American cultural heritage, for better and worse. Whatever the outcome, Twinkies are forever.
• Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.