live well.

Twinkie’s comeback indicates we’re not as ‘real’ as we claim

Earlier this month I watched in concern and amusement as the country celebrated the return of the Twinkie to food store shelves. NBC’s coverage on “The Today Show”marked the cake’s successful return on July 15 after an eight-month hiatus.

Twinkie the Kid
photo by Rebecca Davis via TODAY.com

I wasn’t too disappointed when Hostess announced it would be shutting its doors and discontinuing the cake, but the American public cried foul, and its determination to hang on to the nostalgic treat will no doubt go down in legend. People went out in droves to hoard the ones they could find, and the more entrepreneurial-spirited individuals began selling their stashes on eBay. I don’t even want to know how long the cakes had been hidden in pantry recesses until the announcement prompted consumers to sell them to the highest (er, most desperate) bidder.

Before its very own industrial revolution, the Twinkie was made out of real shortcake and cream (created by James A. Dewar who worked at Hostess predecessor Continental Baking Company). Bakers would fill the cakes with banana (yes!) cream because bananas were seasonal year-round; however, during WWII when rationing disrupted much of the country’s food supply, vanilla replaced banana in the cream filling.

Hostess Twinkies
photo by Christian Cable via Flickr.com Creative Commons

Not long after the flavor modification, the company began tinkering with ingredients to prolong the cake’s shelf life, and voila! We now have a cake made without butter or eggs, and cream made without dairy products.

For decades Twinkie’s ingredient list has been held up as an example of how highly processed and mass-produced food is extremely unhealthy. In nutrition circles, there is a tendency to use the snack cake as an example of everything humans should avoid in their diet. Even Disney’s endearing animated film “Wall-E” portrayed a world where only a cockroach and Twinkie have survived an atmosphere that’s inhospitable for any other life form.

I’ve watched a positive (and growing) trend towards buying local, hormone-free, organic food. Many consumers want more information about the food they put into their bodies because they’re beginning to understand that what they eat and where it came from is important. So why were we so desperate to bring the Twinkie back? I can only determine it has something to do with a sense of familiarity and stability in a world that’s changing faster than many of us can keep up.

The Twinkie comeback reinforces what I have known to be true throughout my years as a doctor of nutrition – eating habits are behavior patterns with much stronger ties to emotion than to reason. In my business, writing and customizing meal plans is simple enough, but it’s helping my clients adapt their behaviors in the midst of emotional situations that it so difficult. I know that if they’re going to be successful in the long term they have to make those changes, and with this month’s event in mind, I would say Americans have a long way to go.

I have a challenge for the millions of Americans whose nostalgic memories have made them forget all of the healthy progress they had made regarding their diets. Refocus by making new memories with real food. Do it for yourself, but more importantly, do it for your children. Our fondest memories shouldn’t come from a box, and neither should our food. Remember why you care about your health, what’s important in life, and how you’d like to nourish yourself and your family.

Real Snacks photo via Amazon.com

I’m interested in learning about how people from all over are trying to create new food memories. Please email me your ideas and any photos, and I’ll feature you in an upcoming post. If you’re interested in making your own favorite nostalgic treat with “real” ingredients, check out Lara Ferroni’s book “Real Snacks: Make Your Favorite Childhood Treats Without All the Junk.”

 

eat right. be fit. live well.

Dr. A

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