Day 317–Ding, Dong, Is the Twinkie Dead?

Soap box ready? Mic on?

Hostess Brands, Inc., maker of the Twinkie snack cake, Ding Dong cakes and super processed Wonder Bread has filed for bankruptcy as of this morning, and they say they will be closing shop. Right after they sell off the rights to the name “Twinkie” and “Ding Dong”. The news media are mourning the loss of Americana. Say what?

The closing of all the bakery plants (including at least one here in North Carolina) comes after a national strike of bakery workers who objected to an 8% pay cut, elimination of their pension and cuts to their insurance benefits. According to Hostess Brands, the strike killed the company and the strikers were “greedy”. Um, hello??? Senior Executives??? When you make $12.00 per hour, an 8% cut may not be acceptable, especially when that means workers are losing many of their benefits while making…wait for it…$11.04 an hour. Try living on that. Annually, at about $21,000, that is below the U.S. poverty line. Not sure how that counts as “greed.”

So what in the world does this story have to do with healthier living and locavore eating? A lot, actually. When we talk about sustainable food production, that means that the process is sustainable for the environment, the production system and the workers.

It means that you don’t fill people up with questionable fats and heavily refined and bleached sugar/flour because they are cheaper than real ingredients. It means that you don’t sell your products to Wal-Mart for almost nothing and then screw over your work force to make up for it. It means that when you rely on trucking your cheaply made food across the country, maybe you need to either plan for gas prices rising or find another model.

It means that you, Hostess, are not sustainable. You rely on government subsidies for cheap ingredients, can’t get your product to market without subsidized fuel, and refuse to pay your employees a living wage. Your employees depend on taxpayer-funded food and health care subsidies to survive while you give executives large bonuses. It means, in short, that your product cannot possibly get any cheaper in quality and yet you still can’t make your business model work.

I don’t want to sound like a complete Twinkie hater (although, apparently, I am). I ate my fair share back in the day. But Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread (who names these things???) are not only unhealthy for the population, they are representative of a food system that doesn’t work. A food system that relies on cheap ingredients, cheap energy and cheap labor while contributing to a national obesity and diabetes crises.

In truth, Twinkies will probably not disappear. Hostess will likely sell off the name to another company and some people at the top will congratulate themselves with nice, fat raises. Someone will move Twinkie production overseas where poor labor practices and sub-par food products are acceptable. Probably no one in the food industry will take this moment to reexamine their business model, but they should. And we Americans should not mourn the passing of the Twinkie, but realize that this is an opportunity to do better. For all of us.

Looking to make your own Twinkies? My friend and fellow blogger Heather at Sugar Dish Me shares this recipe. She is an amazing baker, so I’m guessing this recipe is pretty awesome!