In case you haven’t heard, Hostess, maker of such American culinary icons as Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread, filed for bankruptcy protection this month for the second time in 10 years.
According to NPD Group, a retail market research firm, the Twinkie and other junk foods have lost their appeal. Last year, the percentage of Americans who ate white bread at home fell to 36, down from 54 percent in 2000. At the same time, wheat bread consumption climbed to 54 percent, up from 43 percent in 2000.
But it’s not as if junk food is going away. There is still plenty of overprocessed stuff to eat. Doritos, Little Debbie Devil Squares and Big Macs are still classic American food. Part of Hostess’ demise may be that its products are so overtly bad, so aggressively industrialized, that the even the most recalcitrant junk-food consumer probably feels a little sheepish sliding a box of Ho Ho’s to the cash register. The novella-length list of artificial ingredients defines processed food at its worst.
While I’ve never been a fan of Twinkies (the artificial-cream-filled cake left an odd film on the roof of my mouth, like eating a crayon), I confess I ate more than a few Ho Ho’s and Ding Dongs in my day. But even as a kid I had a sense that there was something wrong with the stuff.
Unless it’s a dare or a stunt, I doubt my kids will ever eat pastries you can find at 7-Eleven. While my kids (4 and 7) don’t eat every piece of broccoli and wild salmon I put before them, I think they eat pretty well. And when they do eat sweets, I make sure they are made with real sugar (not corn syrup), real butter or lard (not Crisco or margarine) and organic milk and cream from cows that weren’t fed shovel-loads of antibiotics.
Now when my son goes to a birthday party, and someone serves a Costco birthday cake or Safeway brownies, he doesn’t eat them. It’s not because he’s a food snob in training, but because he’s had the real thing and knows good food made with whole foods and unprocessed ingredients taste better. Real food just tastes better.
Americans will always love their junk food, so Twinkie-like objects always be available. But perhaps the market for these health hazards will continue to shrink if future generations of kids are raised knowing what real butter, milk and cream tastes like. Anything less will taste like, well, oversweetened crayons.