New Jersey Jewish News
Elegy for Twinkies:
Once again, government intervention has resulted in untold heartache. New regulations mandating that trans fat content be listed on nutritional labels have caused manufacturers of all types of foods to change their formulae. In general, I imagine it is safe to suppose that most people would applaud the concept that food be less harmful, yet I still find that I question the motives. Even the best ideas can be carried too far.
Does it really make any sense that a product that is the icon of wasted calories, the personification of junk food, have health information on it?
The makers of Twinkies, seeing the Mene mene on their wall, reformulated their most perfect of all snacks, the American manna, in a futile attempt to make the trans fat number less offensive to the rare eye that would even consider looking at such information, a practice that brings to mind a heavyset person trying to disguise the problem solely by avoiding horizontal stripes.
And yet, what has my dander up is not the ludicrousness of this attempt, but the collateral damage.
I grew up as an Orthodox Jew, salivating every day in the lunchroom of my school as I watched my non-Jewish classmates open their desserts, packed with such love by their mothers. Unlike my mother, who put in home-made rhubarb pie and sponge cake, theirs not only loved them, they understood what was really good and packed Twinkies along with the white-bread sandwiches.
Forbidden to me by the dietary laws and by parents who actually cared about what I ate, Twinkies were the shiksa, the unattainable forbidden delight of my youth; my refraining from eating them was my forced gift to a silent Lord that I had a hard time believing cared about my snack habits.
And then, at an age when the sensory delight had transitioned from lust to nostalgia, came the stunning news: Twinkies had become kosher!
This was, to my ear, roughly equivalent to Elizabeth Taylors conversion to Judaism to my moms. Despite my advanced age, I became not just a consumer but also an aficionado.
To make matters more egregious, my girlfriend had adopted Twinkies as our junk food, and so we had created (in a bow to the spirit of modern Judaism) a new alternative ritual, wherein we met early on Shabbat mornings to celebrate with a coffee and Twinkie collation before services, a kind of reverse kiddush or pre-service sugar high to sustain us through the lengthy prayers. Shabbat was the only day that we deemed, to paraphrase Elaine Benes in Seinfeld, Twinkie-worthy.
Now, thanks to the insanity of trans fat labeling regulations and the consequent rescission of the kosher certification, we are forlorn. Deprived of our pre-liturgy binge, Shabbat services seem to have lost some of their oomph, as my pangs for sugar activate.
I know, I know. There are still Drakes Cakes and untold other brands of equally nutritionally valueless snacks out there. Its just not the same. Having enjoyed the Holy Grail of empty calories, I can no longer tolerate synthetic substitutes. Of course, that implies that Twinkies arent synthetic but the Shabbat treat, and what it added to our spirits, was real. And now its lost.
Do you think there is any possibility that Hostess would respond to an appeal on religious grounds? During Prohibition, churches and synagogues were exempt from the ban and were allowed to serve wine at religious services. Perhaps there could be a religious exemption from the labeling rules for Twinkies, and we could still have the kosher ones. For sacramental use only, of course.
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