In defense of Hostess

Opinion by Alex Bayer
Nov. 30, 2012, 1:23 a.m.

I have mixed feelings about the prospect of Hostess going bankrupt and fading away. I have some good memories tied to these trans fat delights. Before I had any concept of health food, back when I ate Lunchables on a regular basis, I ate Hostess pies every week to pump myself up for Hebrew school. How can I forget that very distinct sensation of something cold, lumpy and reminiscent of something “apple” sliding down my esophagus, battling my immune system along the way and finally sinking to the bottommost pit of my stomach? Twinkies were a staple of my lunch bags. Sometimes you can forget it’s there, and 10 weeks later, you open the secret compartment in your backpack and it’s still good. Who can compete with that?

I’m sentimental about things I shouldn’t be, and Hostess is at the top of that list. My conscience is opposed. Ethically speaking, Hostess might as well be the poster child for the processed food industry that exhibits microscopic amounts of respect for its assembly line workers and the consumers whose arteries its products are fatally clogging. Just the mention of Hostess conjures up awful visions of vats filled with mystery sludge, smokestacks coughing out soot, bleak industrial parks in Ohio and New Jersey and food dyes concocted from crushed insect parts. God, I hope these are just my dystopian nightmares.

On a brighter note, people like me are becoming more informed about the benefits of eating healthy and more wary of inscrutable ingredient lists. I can’t think of anywhere where this movement is more present than in Northern California, practically the birthplace of Alice Waters, locavorism and phrases like “artisan ingredients,” “heirloom,” and “grass-fed.” In this rewritten balance of power, Whole Foods is the supermarket powerhouse, Chipotle is the go-to for fast food and Clif Bars are infiltrating the candy bar aisle.

The casualties of this movement are archaic brands like Hostess, whose executives are not nimble enough to rebrand their products in disingenuous, business-savvy ways, like the trend-reflexive charlatans at McDonald’s and Walmart. But the real challenge that has stymied Hostess’s efforts to don the “all-natural” veil is simple: sugary, guilt-ridden goodness is its brand. There’s something refreshingly up-front about how blatantly artificial Wonder Bread and Twinkies are.

Hostess, unlike so many of its processed food competitors, has made no effort to smack a green leaf on its Hostess pie wrappers or extract the phrase “contains natural flavors” and stick it on a box of Mini Muffins as if it were the title of a sermon on wholesomeness. Truth be told, I prefer Hostess’s absurdly, unwittingly honest approach to the deception of companies with stronger marketing departments. What do I trust more? A Hostess chocolate cupcake that is unabashedly artificial and which I know is not going to win any kudos from my stomach, or a box of Froot Loops tantalizing me with its promise of whole grains and fiber?

I know what to eat most of the time and what to eat on occasion, in late-night moments of bad decision-making. In a perfect world, the whole universe of processed food would be gone, and Hostess along with it, my childhood nostalgia be damned.

But in the current reality, in which multibillion-dollar corporations continue to exist and evolve despite everything, I would gladly take the frank unhealthiness of Hostess over the oatmeal secretly loaded with sugar, the “salad” secretly packed with as much fat as a Whopper and the mango smoothie that bears not a single trace of mango nor nutrient. It’s this gray area of terrible-for-you processed food masquerading as healthy food that is the most dangerous enemy of the food revolution, not the Twinkie whose artificiality borders on legendary. It’s perfectly OK to have chocolate cake every once in a while, but when chocolate cake is being 3sold as a “low-calorie, low-fat, high-in-fiber, sugar-free, gluten-free” pseudo-healthy snack, then dang, I’m going to eat cake every day.

You can have your cake and eat it too by emailing Alex at [email protected].

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