Peggy Keener: A sugar shackled life

Published 6:30 am Saturday, October 17, 2020

There are people in this world whose contributions have raised our enjoyment of life to undreamed of heights. You know who they are: Liberace, Thomas Edison, Dr. Phil, Fabio, to name a few. There is one person, however, who has surpassed all the others. His name is James Alexander Dewar.

What? You don’t know Mr. Dewar?

How plebeian of you! Why, folks, this is the man who changed our lives. Our bodies! It was his single contribution that out-ranked all of mankind’s gifts to mankind.

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Mr. James Alexander Dewar invented Twinkies!

One day in 1930, James, a Canadian baker, realized that the machines he was using for making strawberry-filled shortcakes were sitting idle when strawberries were out of season. What a waste, he brooded. Why not, instead, fill the little cakes with banana cream which was easily available? Then glancing behind him he saw a billboard advertising Twinkle Toe Shoes. Just like that, it became the inspiration for the name of his new little cakes.

WWII changed things, however, when bananas were rationed. Begrudgingly they were dropped from the Twinkie recipe, resulting in only a vanilla cream filling. To Dewar’s delight, though, this did not dent sales. Folks loved it. The recipe remained a hit for many years, remaining until 2011 when some really svelte people with perfectly sculpted bodies declared that (hard to believe, I know), Twinkies were unhealthy. It was an unheard of sacrilege! What a condemnation of the American people and their diets … in particular the American not-so-svelte people.

In that year alone, sales of Twinkies fell by 36 million packages, nearly 20% down from the year earlier. Customers proclaimed they had moved on to healthier snacks. Overnight bakery operations were suspended and production ended in America. (I don’t know if flags hung at half staff or not.)

Despite all the anguish, the angels of junk food were watching over Twinkies for in 2013 they were miraculously once again on store shelves. It was like blood to the anemic, water to the parched, soap to the unwashed.Twinkies had been revamped. The company bragged that where previously one cake had contained 150 calories, they now had only 135. (OMG! Is that all? Give me two, please. And hurry!)

The size of the cakes was also reduced from 42.5 grams to 38.5 grams. (Now, I was never a math whiz, but would that not explain the reduction of the caloric content?) But way more important than either of these statistics was the announcement (trumpets, please) that Twinkies now lived longer! Yes. Their shelf life, due to the power of stronger preservatives (Thank you, Lord!), was extended from 26 days to 45. (From the looks of the results, I’m guessing that Twinkies also lived longer on America’s thighs and rib cages.)

Aside from this, it may come as a shock to learn that the name “Twinkies” began to be a derisive term. (Say it isn’t so!) In a Mormon general conference, one speaker used the expression “theological Twinkie” in reference to teaching methods that may be pleasing and entertaining, but lack sufficient spiritual and doctrinal substance. In other words, spiritual empty calories. (Imagine the gall!)

The little cake also became a not-so-great legal label. “Twinkie defense” was a catch-all term used by reporters during the trial of Defendant Dan White for the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. Their lawyer’s defense was that White suffered diminished capacity as a result of depression. And that his depression was caused by his change in diet from healthful food to Twinkies. (Sounds like fake news to me!)

Still, Twinkies, without skipping a beat, has persevered. There was great rejoicing when a deep-fried veresion hit the market. A fellow chub—a Brit—named Christopher Sell, invented the lil’ greasy darlings. “Something magical occurs when the pastry hits the hot oil,” he explained. “The creamy white vegetable-shortening-filling liquefies, impregnating the sponge cake with its luscious vanilla flavor. Then the cake softens, warms and nearly melts, contrasting with the crisp, deep-fried crust in a buttery and suave way.” And, there was more. The piece de resistance was the ruby-hued berry sauce that added a final touch of tart sophistication.

Americans were delighted clear out of their sugar induced brume when Walmart (once again Walmart triumphs!) began selling prepackaged frozen deep-fried Twinkies throughout America. (It’s no wonder we’re the Land of the Free, the Land of the Fat.)

As for myself, I have spent a lifetime avoiding the consumption of Twinkies. It has been a gargantuan struggle, resulting in a pretty huge martyr complex. Now at age 82, I am beginning to wonder at the wisdom of my judgment. They are, after all, only little tiny nubbins of sweet goodness. What harm could they cause?

Still, have I short changed myself all these years? Could I have been a happier person had I had an excess of white vegetable shortening surging through my veins? Would I have been more popular if I had handed Twinkies out to my friends and even strangers like their was no end to my generosity? Have all my years of sacrifice, heaven forbid, been for naught?

And worst of all—despite the lifelong shackling of my Twinkie desires—how do I explain to my svelte judgmental friends the shape of my thighs and rib cage?