Twinkies, the unpretentious, freakishly versatile and seemingly indestructible snack pastry dubbed the cream puff of the proletariat, died Friday of complications from economic reality.
Texas-based Hostess Brands announced it would shutter operations amid a debilitating labor dispute. Twinkies were 82.
Although they pre-dated the baby boom, Twinkies became a lunchtime staple for post-World War II generations of schoolchildren – something to take the sting off the bologna sandwich and the dutiful apple.
Pop culture scholar Robert Thompson said Hostess Brands eventually covered all the lunchbox food groups, including Wonder Bread, Ding Dongs and Ho Ho’s. And the ascendancy of the Twinkie represented how food had become technology, Thompson said. A pastry with filling, wrapped in cellophane.
More than that, Twinkies have lodged themselves into the cultural firmament for better and worse.
Twinkies have provided countless yuks in movies. They were a vaguely effeminate doughnut substitute for cops (They’re for my wife) in Die Hard (1988). In the Pixar animated film WALL-E (2008), which is set 700 years in the future, the only surviving species is the cockroach, and his favorite food is an abnormally fresh Twinkie. (Folklore aside, a Twinkie’s shelf life is about two to three weeks.)
Twinkies are a notorious footnote in the country’s judicial system. An attorney for San Francisco Supervisor Dan White argued in 1979 that his client should not be convicted of first-degree murder because of diminished mental capacity from eating so much junk food that it exacerbated his depression.
The so-called Twinkie Defense did not help White, who was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the killings of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.
The Twinkie was born in 1930 and is often credited to James Dewar, an Illinois baker for what was then Continental Baking.
The firm produced a cream-filled strawberry shortcake and, when strawberry season was over, he saw no reason the machines needed to sit idle. He formulated a banana cream cake, which, amid World War II rationing, became and remained vanilla cream.
The name? It was inspired by a billboard Dewar saw for Twinkle Toe Shoes. I shortened it to make it a little zippier for the kids, Dewar said in a 1980 interview.
The golden confection developed into a finger-shaped sugar sponge that was injected with a gooey filling capable of turning small children into google-eyed rocket boosters.
Hostess reportedly sold about $2.5 billion annually of baked goods.
Twinkies have survived the Depression, three major wars, bankruptcy filings by the parent company, and all the jokes about their post-apocalyptic staying power.
The people who most mourned the death of the Twinkie are probably those who learned to quit eating them a long time ago, said Thompson, 57.
Depending on a willing Hostess buyer, survivors may not include Cup Cakes, Ding Dongs, Ho Ho’s, Sno Balls, Donettes and bread lines such as Wonder and Nature’s Pride.
In lieu of flour, doughnations may be made to the organization of your choice. Consider the American Diabetes Association.