Hostess Brands, the manufacturer of Twinkies and a roster of brands that date back to 1888, shut its plants and began the liquidation process in November.
But rather than celebrate the prospect of 75 billion nutritionally challenged calories disappearing from store shelves (that’s 500 million Twinkies per year times 150 calories each), commentator George Will prefers to celebrate the power of brands, calling them “the gods of the marketplace” and expressing confidence the powerful Twinkies brand will be “resurrected”:
“Are you a Ford or Chevy person? Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward? Camels or Chesterfields? Wooed by advertising, people plight their troths to brands in marriages that often are more durable than boomers’ actual marriages.”
To rebut Will’s brand-studded noneulogy — it neither contains the phrase “junk food” nor refers to any of the ingredients in Twinkies, but does cite 36 manufacturing plants that employ more than 18,000 people — let’s go to Joan Gussow’s essay “Can an Organic Twinkie Be Certified?”:
“Food ‘manufacturers’ in my parents’ generation could do little more to foods in the factories — heating them, for example, or drying them, or putting them aside to ferment — than could be done in the household. Today, however, the food technologist’s power over the products of nature has multiplied to the point where he can create foods never before eaten by humans, foods whose safety and nutritiousness are at best unprovable and at worst doubtful.”
It’s hard to think of a more manufactured food than Twinkies. OK, Gummi Bears. Which raises the real question: Just what do we mean by the term food?
Gussow continues: “A professor of our acquaintance once used an apple and a Twinkie to distinguish between ‘food’ and something he called ‘gut filler,’ food being something that points us toward a particular place, a particular time of year, and a set of ongoing global processes, and gut-filler being something that is ‘manufactured.’”
Could it be that food manufactured by food technologists, designed by chemists and lacking connection to place and season makes us dumber? More susceptible to the fast and the cheap, the artificial and the abstract? Too ready to choose empty calorie over nutrient density? Too willing to say hello to the virtual and goodbye to the real?
Now, picture a futures trader or an arbitrageur or a hedge fund manager or an investment banker or an advertising executive or a TV pundit, standing on a corner in lower Manhattan, snarfing down a Twinkie.
And say, “Au revoir.”