J500 Media and the Environment

Strange Ingredients, Cultural Icon by bendcohen
January 28, 2010, 2:10 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 2 | Tags: , ,

Does anyone in this country not know what a Twinkie is?  I am a little tempted to start asking around some time, and see if there is somebody, anybody who grew up in the United States who has not at least heard of the spongy little snack-cakes filled with what can only be referred to as “cream” by the extremely generous.

Having read several articles now about where the ingredients in Twinkies come from, I also have to wonder what those same people would think about the eclectic origins of each of the yellow-ish snack cakes.  Steve Ettlinger’s article “From the Chinese Oil Refinery to your Twinkie” listed ingredients culled from all over the world, from Malaysia to Peru to Switzerland, and focusing, as the title would suggest, mainly on China, where those ingredients are generally processed into the ingredients listed on cardboard Twinkie boxes.

The poster-child for multiculturalism. Consider that in the time it'll take for your mind to be blown.

This all means that Twinkie the Kid is the Sergio Leone if snack-food mascots: somebody who became famous for promoting an anachronistic aspect of American culture they learned about from overseas, and became synonymous with it.  Sorbic acid might be his Clint Eastwood.

So, does this mar the Twinkie’s place in American culture at all?  Probably not, actually.  Aside from the grander statements that could be made about how we live in a cultural melting pot, the Twinkie itself is so completely ingrained at this point that no matter what sort of bizarre substances go into its creation (or what else they create), and how unhealthy it all might be, people will continue consuming it.

Part of this has to do with accessibility.  The Twinkie is cheap, and can be found basically anywhere, from packs of a dozen or so in grocery stores to two-packs in gas stations.  County fairs the country over are almost expected to have Twinkies among the various odd foodstuffs they attempt to deep-fry.  Even a recent Hollywood movie, “Zombieland”, a character played by Woody Harrelson was as desperate to find one last Twinkie in post-apocalyptic America as he was to survive.

Even somebody like me, who hasn’t had  a Twinkie in  years, can’t escape their utter ubiquity.  Sadly, what goes in them will probably remain ignored by the general public for the time being, and they will remain as entrenched in American culture as ever.

Ben C.


5 Comments so far
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What could be more American than a Twinkie?

Well, apparently a lot of things!

Comment by bpirotte

Sorry, as I am sort of a noob at this blogging thing, I was not finished with the above comment.

Reading articles like this and watching films like Food, Inc. can really get you to start thinking about what you eat. But can they really?

Even after I watched Food, Inc. I still went to the store to buy groceries. I pretty much stuck to the same routines I have with purchasing groceries, and paid little attention to what was in them or where they came from. I think it isn’t just an American thing, it’s a habitual one.

But, I now thank my mom for not allowing me to eat Twinkies when I was a child.

Ben P.

Comment by bpirotte

As someone living outside of the US, I admit that I have never eaten a Twinkie, however, it seems that the snack has based it’s existence upon the idea of nostalgia.The commercial for example asks kids about their ideas of how they are made rather than revealing the truth behind the concoction. When I think about Twinkies, I immediately think about the film Greece. I wonder, with your references to the film industry, do you feel Hollywood should take a more active role in promoting food awareness as opposed to promoting modified snacks such as the Twinkie.

Amanda Jayne N

Comment by amandajayne16

First of all, I think Ben P.’s comments are similar to the line of thought that Simran is looking into for her book. Why if there are good options out there are people still doing and accepting the bad ones (yes I do realize that there is a huge cost and availability difference when it comes to good food vs. bad food compared to a trash can or recycling bin that are right next to each other), but they do have similarities.
I don’t know why, but while reading Ben’s post, I couldn’t help but think about the 7up commercials that talked about how it was “natural” and showed images of farmers holding up branches with cans of 7up “growing” off of them. Or the boxes of fortified cereal (that were recently pulled off of shelves for false advertising) that talk about how healthy they were because they had vitamins in them. I wonder if we will ever get to that point with the Twinkie. I hope Hostess doesn’t start adding vitamins and minerals to their products and then claim that they are healthy… but I could totally see that happening. -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

Perhaps is because I’m tremendously cynical about corporate… anything, but I could absolutely see Hostess attempting something like that. I remembered that 7Up ad campaign once you mentioned it. The whole “healthy/green” craze is going to produce things like that, because as long as it makes a little extra money to make such claims, large companies are going to do it.

Amanda, to your comment, I would love to see Hollywood take a more active stance, but I fear that it would not be taken seriously. Much of the country is already weary of “big messages” spread by the entertainment industry, and I don’t entirely blame them, since it often botches it horribly (see “The Day After Tomorrow” or “The Happening” as examples). My point in referencing “Zombieland” was that the Twinkie is so ingrained in American popular culture that its place in that film didn’t even resemble product placement, but rather that it was something so familiar that using it as a metaphor for the status-quo was just obvious to most viewers (myself included).

Ben C.

Comment by bendcohen

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