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Twinkies: America’s sugary core

There was America, on pallets.

The Twinkies sat beside the Donettes, which sat beside the Cupcakes, all of which occupied a pallet in front of the Vitamin Water and next to the Coke display and across the way from the Redbox movie machine and a motorized wheelchair-shopping cart combo charged up, waiting.

These 100 square feet or so near the front door of the Smith’s grocery store on Charleston Boulevard and Rancho Road were a microcosm.

Twinkies, the legendary snack cakes, roared back from obscurity Monday like a celebrity out of rehab, a brand-new slogan in tow, a slim new look to show off, and a battery of baggage in its past.

“The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever,” the display said.

People lapped them up. They put them on eBay for $10 a box, apparently hoping to lure the ignorant. They were sold out at six of the city’s 19 Smith’s locations by Monday morning, said Derick Pfiester, who handles merchandise for the chain locally.

Twinkies, you’ll recall, disappeared from store shelves eight months ago, along with the Donettes and the Cupcakes, as the company that produced them went bankrupt.

Business deals happened. Tweaks were made. A slightly smaller Twinkie made its triumphant return Monday, though they weren’t too hard to find on store shelves over the weekend.

Why do we love the Twinkie so?

It is a simple yellow spongecake, filled with sugary cream. They’re too sweet. They’re full of calories — 135 each. And they’re not even chocolate. The ingredients are pretty much flour, water, sugar and chemicals.

But the story of the Twinkie is the story of America.

James Dewar came up with the idea in 1930, the last time this country was on the verge of economic collapse.

He’d risen through the ranks at the Continental Baking Co., and he noticed a problem. The company made and sold strawberry shortcakes during strawberry season, but did nothing with their spongecakes in the off-season.

Let’s fill them with banana cream, he said, and so they did. Later, during banana rationing in World War II, they changed the filling to vanilla.

The Twinkie’s legendary status grew. By 1985, when Dewar died at age 88, Americans were buying hundreds of millions of them every year.

We became the fattest nation on planet. We won the Cold War. We fought terrorism and we cured diseases.

False legends arose. Twinkies would survive the apocalypse. Twinkies never expire. Twinkies led to uncontrollable bingeing.

This one’s true, though: The president of the United States put Twinkies into the Millennium Time Capsule in 1999.

Twinkies have even spawned an economic buzzword: Twinkie-ization. That’s when a society has become so successful that its people have enough money to waste on the little things.

Twinkies, proving that things are looking up.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.

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