“Life is a Twinkie and girls are the sticky white stuff inside.”
– Zac Hanson
As TC-trips to the States become more common, people ask us to bring stuff back for them – y’know, things you can’t get in Britain. But what do you suppose is the most common request? Cheap CDs? Uncut videos? Jeans? No. More popular, even than duty-free booze, is the humble item of confectionery known as a Twinkie. The above quote shows that, while the members of Hanson may have a lot to learn about life (and girls), there’s no denying they’re aware of the iconic status possessed by this particular sweetmeat in America. Come! Celebrate with us the joy of the Twinkie!
“Yeah, just trying to handle some year old Twinkies. Yuk. What do they put in these things?”
– Die Hard
Good question, Bruce. On one level, it is merely a sponge cake with a cream filling – 68% air, and 32% solids by volume, to be precise. But rarely has an item of junk food been more eloquently described than by its ingredients. They form a parade of unnatural goodness which reaches near-poetic levels, and which truly does speak for itself in eloquent support of the joys to be found in chemo-industrial confectionery.
Ingredients: Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Niacin (A “B” Vitamin), Ferrous Sulfate (Iron), Thiamine Mononitrate (B1), Riboflavin (B2)], Water, Sugar, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable and/or Animal Shortening (contains one or more of: Canola, Corn, Cottonseed or Soybean Oil, Beef Fat), Eggs, Dextrose. Contains 2% or less of: Modified Food Starch, Whey, Leavenings (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda, Monocalcium Phosphate), Salt, Starch, Yellow Corn Flour, Corn Syrup Solids, Emulsifiers (Mono and Diglycerides, Lecithin, Polysorbate 60), Dextrin, Calcium Caseinate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Cellulose Gum, Wheat Gluten, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Caramel Color, Artificial Colors (Yellow 5, Red 40), Sorbic Acid (to retain freshness).
“As you can see, Genghis greatly enjoys Twinkies because of the excellent sugar rush!”
– Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
The Twinkie celebrated its 70th anniversary this year, since it was in 1930 that Jimmy Dewar, bakery manager of the Hostess bakery in Chicago, came up with the concept. Named after the “Twinkle Toe” brand of shoe, they were two for five cents, and Twinkie v1.0 had a banana-cream, rather than vanilla-cream filling. The switch was made during World War II, due to a shortage of bananas, and the result proved popular enough to prevent Hostess changing back afterwards, save for a brief period in 1999.
“I got a Twinkie in the car. It’s all yours, if you get me out of this mess.”
– Excess Baggage
Nowadays, Twinkies are about $3.49 for a box of ten (though prices rose during a recent haulage strike, with boxes even being auctioned off on Ebay). Hostess produces more than 500 million Twinkies a year, and you could wrap the world up one and a half times with the cellophane used to package them. They were selected last year by the White House Millennium Council to be included in the Nation’s Millennium Time Capsule, representing “an object of enduring American symbolism.”
“Let’s say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psycho-kinetic energy in the New York area. According to this morning’s sample, it would be a Twinkie 35 ft long, weighing approximately 600 lbs.”
That’s a big Twinkie – unfortunately, it’s an implausible one. In preparing for the 70th birthday of the Twinkie, Interstate Bakeries Corp. wanted to celebrate with a huge Twinkie. But engineers brought in for the project found that you can only push sponge cake so far. “The structural integrity of the Twinkies didn’t allow us to make a 25-foot edible Twinkie cake,” said Stuart Smith, director of communications at Ellerbe Becket. “It would have collapsed.” Tests also shot down the idea of just piling Twinkies to the sky. “We actually did tests,” said project leader Doug Brown. “We found that Twinkies aren’t very structural and can only be stacked 6 inches high.”
“I deal in the real world, Agent Mulder. You begged onto this case as part of the solution. All you’ve done is hand our only suspects the Twinkie Defence.”
– The X-Files
It may be the only junk food used successfully as a defence against a charge of murder. In 1978, former police officer Dan White walked into San Francisco City Hall and shot dead Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. At his trial, White alleged his actions were caused by eating an excessive number of Twinkies on the morning of the incident; he claimed this caused a change in his brain chemistry, making him act on an “irresistable impulse”, and so he could not be held responsible for his actions. The jury accepted this; White was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter instead.
“That is such a Twinkie defence. Shylock should get over himself.”
– Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Rarely has a pseudo-dessert been the subject of so many urban legends, ranging from the true (yes, there really were chocolate iced Twinkies) through the inaccurate (“Twinkies aren’t baked – they set, like jello”), to the wildly implausible. My favourite is the idea that they have an infinite shelf-life, aided by an ability to “eat” mould: if any grows on a Twinkie, the Twinkie is alleged to digest it. This may or may not be the case: experiments in TC Towers have shown they do tend to grow hard rather than going off.
“Silly customer. You cannot hurt a Twinkie!”
– The Simpsons
Finally, there is one mystery which still surrounds the the Twinkie: it is a curiously North American foodstuff, one which has never been marketed over here. My attempt to find out took me to the Hostess corporation itself – though I might as well not have bothered: “Thank you for bringing your disappointment with Twinkies to our attention. Customer feedback is a valuable asset in improving our products and we appreciate your taking the time to share your concerns with us. We will forward your mailing address to the bakery serving your area and they will follow up with you as soon as possible.”
Can we spell “form letter”, boys and girls? I think we can. Needless to say, nothing more was ever heard, and the mystery behind the lack of Euro-Twinkies remains unresolved…
“You Hostess Twinkie motherfucker!”
– Living in Oblivion
“Have a Twinkie, snapperhead!”
– The Adventures of Ford Fairlane
“Twinkies and wine! Oh, that’s real classy…”
What are the rules governing who gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Is it purely a commercial, pay-for-play decision, or are certain artistic considerations also taken into account? There were long stretches of sidewalk where I’d never heard of the people commemorated, though Chris assures me they are quite famous in America. This may explain why Paula Abdul has a star, yet neither Rutger Hauer nor Chow Yun-Fat does. But why was Big Bird’s star all but destroyed? It’s not because he isn’t “real” (The Simpsons have a star nearby) – was he caught masturbating in a cinema or something?
Heading North from LA, this road takes you along the coast, with any number of interesting little side-routes to pert down, and towns to explore (Ventura) or drive through at top speed (Oxnard). There is something intrinsically American about cruising down the freeway, the top of your convertible down, stereo pumping. There is something intrinsically British, however, about the scarlet red colour you turn by evening, because the cool breeze blowing through your hair makes you forget that the sun is bearing down as relentlessly as ever on your chalky-white European skin…
International House of Pancakes
Despite its name, this chain only appears to operate inside America. Go figure. It definitely appears to be a case of them keeping the best for themselves, and comes highly recommended to seekers of an artery-clogging breakfast experience. The pancakes are perhaps the highlight, but you can’t ignore the omelettes, sausages, gravy or hash browns. The diet-conscious can opt for sugar-free maple syrup if they want – personally, I’ll be forced to severely restrict visits when I move out there, or else it won’t be long before I can no longer reach the keyboard.
The 18-hour time difference between LA and Sydney meant hardly anything was shown live, defusing much of the tension. Add in competition with the climax of the baseball season, and early NFL games (both going on here and now), and you had a struggle to overcome apathy. Still, none of this was going to stop a startling degree of favouritism being shown by the American commentators. I watched one 110m hurdles race which went from preview, through the event itself, to post-sprint interviews, without once mentioning the seven non-American competitors.
Though I’m an Arizona Diamondbacks fan (as above – their stadium has not only a retractable roof, it also has air-conditioning), I enjoy watching it even as a neutral, hence the trip to see the LA Dodgers play San Diego. LA won 2-1 – if they had stopped San Diego from scoring altogether, every fan could have swapped their ticket for half a dozen donuts. Given the crowd (40,000 for a meaningless game between two out-of-contention sides), that’s a lot of donuts. Still, they can afford it: the Dodgers pitcher that night, Kevin Brown, only plays one game in five, yet still makes $15 million a year. It works out at about four thousand bucks for every time he throws the ball.
One night, as we headed out for a drink, I wore a hockey jersey I picked up while visiting Montreal for FantAsia in 1998. The results were startling: inside twenty minutes, a guy driving on Sunset Boulevard had stopped to congratulate me on my choice of shirt; two complete strangers in the bar struck up conversation as a result of it, and drinks mysteriously appeared on our table from another, still unknown, source. Is there a tight-knit community of Canadians located in Southern California? While the attention was all entirely friendly, I was somewhat freaked out: leaving the pub, I took the shirt off and didn’t wear it for the rest of the trip.
The Museum of Death
Despite the cheerful, tattooed attendant, this was an infinitely depressing place which proves, beyond all doubt, that no amount of cinematic violence will desensitise you to the real thing. I think the crime scene photos were the grimmest – the Black Dahlia pics probably surpassed the Manson ones, the only saving grace being that the former were in b&w. Possibly worse still was the Traces of Death video playing in one room, showing people leaping from burning buildings, and being hacked apart. Much-needed light relief came from the Dr. Jack Kevorkian gift-certificate, and the black humour with which the Heaven’s Gate suicides were depicted. However, it was an undeniable relief to escape out into the bright light of a sunny September afternoon…