The Hostess Sno-Ball and the Little Kentucky Boy

The Hostess brand declared bankruptcy a few days ago. This was, for me, a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I cannot say I was unhappy that a manufacturer or unhealthy, industrial, artificial food chock full of chemicals and genetically-modified ingredients was going under - just another line of bad food taken out of the supply chain. However, I do feel for the 18,000+ workers who will lose their jobs, in part because their union could not or would not reach an agreement with the parent company that would stave off bankruptcy. Hopefully, they will get severance payments, their pensions will be secure, and they will otherwise weather the loss of jobs and move on to something else.

Another part of me, though, has fond memories of the Hostess Sno-Ball, that delightfully round, creme-filled cupcake that was either white or pink and came two to a pack. As a boy in Bowling Green, Kentucky, going to kindergarten at the Jolly-Time Play School, my father would pick me up every day during his lunch hour and drive me from school back to the farm where he would grab a quick sandwich and get back to his office before his hour was up. I, of course, as a four- or five-year old boy, was blissfully unaware of his time pressures, but I always looked forward to having Daddy pick me up. On our way home, without fail, Daddy would stop at Siddens' Market, give me a dime, and I would run in and buy a pack of Sno-Balls. When I got back in the car, I would open the package and give one to Daddy and keep one for myself. We would eat our cupcakes during the drive back to the farm.

Fifty-two years later, I cannot look at a Sno-Ball without thinking of Daddy. Over the years since that happy time in my life, I have occasionally bought a pack of Sno-Balls and eaten them in my Dad's honor and eventually in my Dad's memory. To this day, I cannot walk by a Hostess stand in a store, looking at the Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, and of course the ubiquitous Sno-Balls, without remembering that little boy with a dime in his hand jumping out of the car and running eagerly into the store to get his cupcakes, one of which he would share with his Daddy. While I would never recommend to anyone that they eat any Hostess product now, I cannot deny that some of my fondest memories of childhood are connected to them. As much as I hate to see anyone eating such artificial products with their obviously negative impacts on one's physical health, I cannot deny that this product had a profound effect on my psychological health. In some incredibly contradictory way, I hope to be able to buy the occasional Sno-Ball in my Dad's memory as long as I live because the taste and smell and texture - not to mention how it sheds the coconut topping on my hands and clothes as I eat them! - brings back the fondest memories of my childhood.

But for modern-day parents, is it really so hard to give them little, round, creme-filled cupcakes that are all natural, maybe even organic, with no genetically-modified ingredients, that have a shelf life of weeks and not years? Is it not possible for a little boy today being picked up by his father after kindergarten class to go into a store with one or two dollars in his hands and buy a quick and easy snack that is sweet, sticky, and delightful to the senses? One that will build memories of childhood that he will carry into old age? Can not companies provide us with those choices that are both indulgent and healthy - or at least not incredibly unhealthy - so we can indulge in a somewhat health-conscious manner? Was it not possible for Hostess to make this transition so its products would adapt to the changing tastes of America's public and the desire to eat healthier? I think it is, but maybe it's too late for them to change. In any case, we should look for those companies that make the effort and reward them accordingly.

As a college student, I remember hearing that the Twinkie has no expiration date because it had no natural ingredients. While I doubt now that was true, popular culture certainly rewarded the Twinkie with an almost cult-like status as the epitome of unhealthy food with an amazing taste, even one worth risking your life to obtain it as Woody Harrelson showed us in "ZombieLand." Such "knowledge," true or not, cemented my attitudes toward Hostess and industrial food in general as I switched to organic, non-GMO food, and adopted organic agriculture and sustainable farming as my passion.

Still, I cannot pass the Hostess stand and see those Sno-Balls, now ten or fifteen times more expensive, without reviving very sweet memories of a little boy in Kentucky with his Daddy. For that, I will always be grateful to the Hostess Company and I hope the Sno-Balls will somehow survive in the years ahead. Because when I am an 80 year old man shuffling through the Kroger or Safeway near my home, I will still smile when I see the Sno-Balls and may well reach over and take a pack off the shelf, pay for it with a debit card, and then sit outside on a bench eating it slowly, reminiscing about a little boy and his Daddy 76 years ago who made buying their daily Sno-Balls a ritual they would always cherish.

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