Michael Pollan asks in a video why carrots cost more than Twinkies. Although his explanation about wrongheaded agricultural policies makes perfect sense, he might do better to ask why people prefer to eat Twinkies over carrots and other healthy (and delicious) foods.
Here’s my take on it. When I was a kid, there was a TV program hosted by “Uncle” Fred Scott. Curiously, although I loved to watch that show, I don’t remember anything about Fred Scott’s TV program except the commercials, one in particular. I don’t know whether it was for budgetary reasons or what, but Fred did his own commercials – and the one I remember best was for Twinkies.
The unwrapped delicacies were artfully stacked on a platter (with some off to the side still in their cellophane packages), and just as in this photo, one was cut in half and arranged so that the cream filling was clearly visible. As Uncle Fred spoke about the virtues of these glorified ladyfingers, he prodded the fluffy cream with the business end of a small wooden pointer.
Fred’s description of Twinkies as mouthwatering was the quintessential understatement. With one little jab of a pointer, all semblance of order in our TV room was lost – I could have used a bib to contain the saliva that was probably pouring from my open mouth, and a chorus of voices called desperately to the kitchen, where mom stood slaving over a hot stove: “Mom, can you pleeeeeease buy some Twinkies???”
Whether it was because we couldn’t afford such extravagances, or that Mom knew most of the the stuff we begged for was garbage, we rarely were granted this wish, and our cries usually went unheeded as Mom or Dad blithely sailed the towering shopping cart past Twinkies, Alpha-Bits and Lucky Charms, Mallomars and soda.
Another of our favorite TV hosts of the time was Sandy Becker, and although I loved his entertaining characters – Norton Nork, the Big Professor (my introduction to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance), and especially, Hambone – Becker’s own down-home commercials grabbed my attention as well. His main products were Bosco Chocolate Syrup (“milk amplifier”), Bonomo Turkish Taffy and, as an odd counterpoint, Maggio Carrots.
A large bunch of carrots would be reclining on the studio countertop, and when Becker lifted them up to begin a litany of warm and fuzzy praise, their fernlike green leaves sprang alluringly into view – of course, I had to imagine the rich orange and cool green colors, as we had black and white TV til I was at least 16 – but that didn’t stop me from admiring and coveting this particular brand of carrots.
I begged my mom for Maggio carrots, and oddly, to me, at least, she seemed happy to grant this request. Unfortunately, this dream had a disappointing ending for me, since, as a child, I never warmed to the taste of cooked carrots – it was just too strong for my undeveloped palate.
But back to Michael Pollan and his question about Twinkies vs. carrots….
I hate to admit it, but I’ve always loved Twinkies – at least until I get the package open and a few bites into my mouth. Yes, the cake is moist and the cream as fluffy as promised by Fred Scott’s pointer, but after I’ve been chewing for a few seconds, the cloyingly sweet and slightly chemical-y taste comes to the fore, and the snack ends up less satisfying than I might have imagined. However, childhood memories and desires die slowly, and sometimes, after months of boycotting the Hostess aisle, I again succumb to their counterfeit charms, and… curses – foiled again.
Why do I engage in this sad and ridiculous dance, you might ask? As I said, childish dreams can linger long after we recognize that they’re nothing but smoke and mirrors. And the fact that Twinkies, as opposed to carrots, were forbidden fruit in our house, just added to their seductiveness. One of the things I told myself growing up was that when I had a job and could use the money to purchase what I wanted, I’d buy Twinkies, and eat them whenever I pleased.
I haven’t tested this theory of childhood dreams and prohibitions being at the heart of the Twinkie vs. carrot dilemma, but I figure it’s got to have some validity, at least within my own family. Years ago, one of my then preadolescent nieces complained that she and her sisters weren’t allowed to have Twinkies, but that the floor of their dad’s car was littered with their distinctive wrappers – “He won’t let us have them, but he hides them and eats them himself!”
Perhaps if my parents hadn’t been so willing to give in to my request for the attractively colored veggies, but instead, held them hostage as a treat, we might be hoarding carrots these days instead!
PS: Oh my – here’s an update just 2 days after I posted this: Hostess is filing for bankruptcy. Do you think it’s because I badmouthed the taste?! Anyway, that link includes a link to make your own, non-chemical-y-ingredients Twinkies!