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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Twinkies, Eternal Freshness and Premature Death

This past Wednesday Hostess - that purveyor of Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Ho-Hos -  filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company said it is struggling to stay competitive under the weight of debt and soaring labor force expenses  - primarily referring to legacy pension and medical benefit obligations and restrictive collective bargaining agreements governing its 19,000 strong, predominantly union workforce.

A Sweet American Giant On Its Knees
The ingredients for a bankruptcy can be complex, but, it seems, no more so than the ingredients of the Twinkie itself.  The description we hear in advertising - golden sponge cake, creamy filling - is rather vague and, it turns out, not very reflective of the very interesting (and somewhat alarming) ingredients of the snack cake.

Fun Facts About Twinkies

Vitamins.  Who knew Twinkies have vitamins?!  Where the vitamins come from, however, is another story: Food writer Steve Ettlinger, author of the book “Twinkie, Deconstructed, explains in an interview with NY Times health blogger Tara Parker-Hope that the vitamins in Twinkie are made from petroleum and fermented in enormous industrial plants mostly in China, part of what Ettlinger calls "the Twinkie Industrial Complex". 

Rocks.  No animals are harmed in the making of a twinkie, but rocks are put to work. Five rocks are required in the making of a Twinkie, including salt,.gypsum, trona, limestone and phosphorus ore.

Polysorbate 60   Ettlinger was unable to get Twinkie factory employees to give away the secret of the cream filling, but he suspects it is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, polysorbate 60, and possibly cellulose gum.

Eternal Life.  Twinkies will change consistency as they age, but apparently never become (more) inedible.  The food writer interviewed in the NY Times has a Twinkie from 2005 in his office, with nary a speck of mold, which might explain the "good through 1/11/25" that was ink-jetted onto the cellophane wrapper of a Banana Flip - quite similar to a Twinkie except for the flavor - that I once purchased as part of a Halloween costume.

The year was 1992, and it actually took me awhile to understand that the '25' in the date line referred to 2025. I've moved twice since then, but the Banana Flip, still stored in a box somewhere, is still (according to them) just as edible a the day I bought it. I should add that the last time I saw it - sometime in 2002 - it looked the same, although the creme filling looked a trifle less creamy.

Doctor Criticizes Snack Cakes, Loses Job
While nothing in the Twinkie seems to resemble food as we know it, and sugar and fat are well-understood contributors to the American obesity rate - Tuesday the CDC reported that more than 78 million adults and almost 13 million children aged 2-19 are obese- a  Florida doctor was removed from his job running a local  health department after posting signs critical of junk food and doughnuts.

Associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Dr. Elbert Huang said in an interview with  MSNBC news that current obesity rates guarantee that we will see dramatic increases down the road in diabetes and in costs linked with that disease. That's because Type 2 diabetes, strongly linked to obesity,  becomes more prevalent as people age.

Twinkies are eternally nostalgic, (nearly) eternally fresh as that word is understood in processed food land, but neither obesity nor diabetes need to be lifelong burdens.  Check out the articles below for an in-depth look at the factors contributing to obesity and diabetes, and how to control them.

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Related Reading

3 comments:

obisity solution said...
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Hot Buttered Media said...

It's like Twinkies have some bizarro fountain of youth inside them!

Funny, even though I wouldn't touch one with a ten-foot pole right now, I still have fond memories of them. Like an old friend...who never dies apparently!

Kudos!

Oh and wait...there were Twinkies covered in chocolate called Chocodiles. "It takes a while to eat a Chocodile" the tune went. Why did it take a while, I don't know.

Hot Buttered Media said...

Here you go:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNHUBfRvIas

(God this commercial makes me feel like a million years old!)