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Are Twinkies a Strategic Snack Food?


Is America in danger of losing snack food superiority to China? Does the demise of a cream-filled snack cake signal the decline of a superpower?  A pillar of American strength is crumbling, judging by the furor over the impending demise of Twinkie maker Hostess. A petition to the White House to “nationalize the Twinkie industry” has garnered 21,000 signatures, while other outraged citizens demand a bailout of Hostess.

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? The banks were bailed out, even if the only thing they produced was fraudulent financial products. If Northrop Grumman or Lockheed Martin went broke, the Pentagon would find a way to keep them in business, though Ding Dongs bring more joy to the world than stealth bombers. As Jack Lemmon said when he played struggling clothing manufacturer Harry Stoner in Save the Tiger, “If we were flat on our ass and we made missiles, Congress would send us a certified check. We happen to make dresses.”

It is true that a measure of a nation’s power is the goods that it produces. A century ago, it was coal and steel to build battleships and railroads. Today, it’s software. But do sugary sweets explain the rise and fall of nations? Not really. The end of Twinkies will not undercut U.S. military strength (though the dissapearance of tobasco sauce might). No American soldiers need fight overseas to protect foreign Twinkie supplies. Indeed, if obesity jeopardizes the health fabric of a nation, then Twinkies could be deemed a national security threat.

Yet Twinkies are strategic, though not in the same way as oil or uranium. It’s not that Twinkies themselves are vital, but the reason for their demise is. By all accounts, Twinkies were an aging but still popular product made by an established company and workforce. But a succession of bankruptcies resulting from poor management decisions left the company in dire financial condition even as top managers awarded themselves huge bonuses. Twinkies fell victim to the same thinking that led American companies to outsource their operations to Asia, and helped make China an economic rival. The same thinking that spurs once-innovative American companies to slash research and investment in order to inflate short-term profits. Twinkies are a victim of today’s predatory American economy, where financial shenanigans and pillaging of assets destroy companies that actually produce goods that people want, and wipe out 18,000 jobs in the process.

If there is one bit of good news, it’s this: after tasting Chinese moon cakes, I am convinced that America can still win the snack food war.