I’ve never thought of myself as a real junk food junkie. Yeah, I can give you an opinion on Cool Ranch versus Nacho-flavored Doritos. I can rank-order candy bars. We eat our fair share of sweets and treats around here, it’s just not usually of the Hostess variety. So when news broke on Friday that Hostess was shutting down, why did I go out before work in search of Twinkies, Hostess cupcakes and Donette Gems? For better or worse, that junk is part of my childhood, and likely yours, too.
I didn’t go out on a hoarding mission. I bought one package of Twinkies, chocolate and powdered sugar donettes and cupcakes. That’s it. At Target, as I was paying for my one package of Twinkies, the checker didn’t shame me for buying junk food at 8 in the morning. We didn’t talk about Hostess shutting down, instead she had her own nostalgic moment talking about how when she was pregnant with her first child, it was Twinkies that she craved, and she’d send her husband out on midnight Twinkie runs for a box or three.
Am I over-sentimentalizing a processed, sugar and preservative-laden fat bomb? Mmm, yeah. But there are plenty of people out there too ready with disdain for anyone who would eat a Twinkie, who would almost prefer being thrown into a pit of venomous snakes to eating one themselves. Twinkies don’t have to be your thing to recognize and give some credence to the fact that over the last 80 years, they’ve embedded themselves in our culture (leave whether that’s good or bad to the individual). Twinkies are immortalized in movies like Grease, Zombieland, Die Hard and others. It’s a reference we can all be in on. There’s a shared experience in them that has driven pastry chefs and food bloggers to recreate not just Twinkies, but most of the Hostess line up.
Will we be worse off as a people for not having Hostess baked goods? From a jobs perspective, the loss of 18,500 jobs is nothing to dismiss. From a food perspective, the answer is obviously no. Our changing views on food, and particularly processed foods, sent Hostess’ sales downward over the last few years. We have other problems with our food supply, even the healthy stuff. If you really need your cupcake fix, Little Debbie and her Swiss Rolls are still around if you get the munchies. Even if the Hostess brand and the recipes are snapped up by another corporation, it will be different. Just the way Zingers have never really been the same since they became a Hostess product.
My grandma always had a box of Dolly Madison Chocolate Zingers sitting on top of her chrome bread box, which never actually had bread in it. As a kid, I can remember standing in the bread aisle at Lucky’s, staring past the brightly colored hand pie packages, only having eyes for the chocolate or powdered sugar donette gems.
Just the smell of those chocolate frosted donettes takes you back to the time when you didn’t notice, let alone care, that the roll of six has 22 grams of fat, and an ingredient list, well, we all know. But gawd help me, they taste exactly the way I remember. The cake is kind of dry (even with a Dec. 6 date stamped on the package), but it’s not as yellow, and the chocolate coating is only vaguely chocolatey. Had we been a Nutella household when I was a kid, I might never have tasted these donettes. And still those little shards of chocolate that flake off are like little pieces of childhood.
So that’s why I went looking. Twinkies and cupcakes and donettes and Zingers remind me. Of simpler times and simpler pleasures.
We’ll probably open the Twinkies and cupcakes and take one bite of each with a mix of ecstasy and revulsion. And then with a vague sense of having lost something, though I still don’t know what it is, I’ll just say, thanks for the memories.