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Woog's World / Change catches up with Twinkies

Published 5:34 am, Friday, November 23, 2012
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We may have eaten our last Twinkie.

Or not.

Hostess -- the parent company of America's quintessential snack food -- is going out of business. The official cause is a la­bor dis­pute with mem­bers of the Bak­ery, Con­fec­tionery, To­bacco Work­ers and Grain Millers In­ter­nation­al Un­ion.

The news is stunning. Who knew that Twinkies -- and other Hostess treats like Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, Sno Balls, Zingers, Donettes and Suzy Q's -- had any connection whatsoever to bakers, confectioners and grain millers? Aren't Twinkies the one food that -- thanks to preservatives cooked up only in food labs by scientists, not nutritionists -- could supposedly last for decades, long after we humans have blown ourselves to smithereens?

Twinkies were the culinary counterpart to cockroaches. I always envisioned a world filled with twisted metal, devoid of all life except roaches scurrying around feasting on Twinkies. Together, they (the insects and indestructible snack food) would lay the foundation for our planet's next evolutionary stage, much as mammals and birds evolved after dinosaurs vanished from the scene.

Like many people my age -- and far younger and older -- the demise of Twinkies is a defining moment. It's a long time since I've had a Twinkie (which, because many other Americans share similar experiences, may be one reason Hostess is headed to that great compost heap in the sky). But Twinkies were a staple of my youthful diet. Now, like many other institutions of childhood, they're gone.

Twinkies were never served in school cafeterias, which shows you how low on the food chain they stood. For decades, the only requirement for a school lunch was that it could be mass produced, scooped or poured or otherwise removed from large pans or bowls, and glopped onto a tray.

If you haven't set foot in the Staples High School cafeteria lately, you're in for a surprise. For one thing, the food service is no longer run by the Board of Education. It's been outsourced to a private business -- Chartwell's -- which makes Republicans, as well as anyone eating in the cafeteria, happy.

Breakfast choices now include fruit, bagels and hot food. Lunch features daily specials, salad bars, sandwiches on ciabatta bread, panini, pizza, and dozens of other options.

Instead of one line snaking past stanchions and ropes, there are many different stations. It looks like a college dining hall, and I am sure Chartwell's bottom line proves the wisdom of this approach.

There are other changes, too. Back in the day, meals were served on actual plates and eaten with real utensils. Students bused their own metal trays. Everything was washed and reused. I'm not sure whether the economics made sense -- was the money spent on washers' wages and benefits, plus cleaning supplies, more or less than what's currently paid for Styrofoam trays and plastic (individually wrapped) utensils? -- but it seems the Staples cafeteria circa 1970 was a lot more environmentally aware than the one in 2012.

Down the hall, you'll find other food-related changes. "Home ec" classes have been supplanted by "Culinary." That's the catch-all term for a wide range of classes, from beginning to advanced, that attract every group of student. Athletes, artists, AP scholars -- all learn how to cook all kinds of cuisines. They delve into where food comes from, and how it finally ends up on plates. They study the economics of nutrition. They help out at the Westport Farmers' Market and do a bit of catering themselves. With a staff of professionally trained chefs, "Culinary" has been a springboard for careers in restaurants, hotels and the food service industry for dozens of students.

When I was in school, "home ec" was solely for girls. "Shop" was its male complement. Staples once offered classes in wood shop, metal shop and automotive shop. There were courses in boat building, mechanical drawing and, later, computer-aided drawing.

Today there is just one "shop" room, and it's home to "technology education." That's where students design bridges and build motorized toy cars. It's a great program -- but there's no room in the modern curriculum for students who want hands-on experience learning a trade (or just picking up another skill).

Before you rise up in outrage: This is not just a Staples issue. Vocational schools around the state -- including Wright Tech in Stamford -- have closed at an alarming rate.

Our schools always change. Curricula shift in response to social, educational and demographic tides. In a town like Westport, the hope is to offer as many options as possible, to as many students as we can. Still, it's impossible to offer everything to everyone, all the time.

Shop inevitably gives way to technology education. Home ec morphs into culinary. "Cafeteria ladies" get paid by Chartwell's. Nothing endures forever.

Even the indestructible Twinkie one day bites the dust.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.