Dad's lunch pail
By Ken Root
The demise of Hostess cupcakes somewhat saddened me, as their products are part of our culture and bring good memories of when it was a real treat to eat the variations of their industrial pastries. The end of Hostess may be poor marketing, but it is clear that we have become highly conscious of our weight and health and must blame someone or something for our problems.
Looking back it could be said I was deprived as a child. Our household was so different from today that it's hard to imagine. We had no snacks in the cupboard or refrigerator. My mother made everything, except bread, and the only items that were pre-packaged were those that went into my father's lunch pail.
Oren began working off the farm before it was fashionable. The reality of making a living on 40 acres of creek bottom and 120 acres of washed-away hills, began to fade in the 1950s. My parents had paid their dues as they rode out the depression as share croppers and made it through World War II in very conservative fashion, finally buying their only farm in 1952. The monthly income was from selling cream and eggs and that was declining as dairy farms were heading for "Grade A" status and the poultry business was consolidating. As the Interstate Highway System was starting to build through rural areas, mom agreed to milk the cows if dad would "hire on" with the local construction crew. As she said with her sarcastic wit: "His shirt-tail didn't touch his back until he was down at the bridge and asking for a job."
As a good wife, she packed a lunch for him each day and as a good husband, he ate it. The pail had a quart thermos filled with coffee and fastened on one side. On the other she put one or two sandwiches and either a plastic wedge shaped pie holder or a package of cupcakes.
Dad worked hard and almost always ate all of his lunch, but as a good father to a 6-year-old boy, he occasionally brought home part of his dessert. I was trained to check his lunch pail every day when he sat it down on the kitchen table. Usually it was totally empty but, on occasion, there was a single cupcake left that was mine to consume.
My favorite was a Hostess Snowball. The thought that anything could be that good was almost beyond belief. The great thing about it was not just the taste of marshmallow and chocolate cake but you could disassemble it first. It had frosting that was like half of a soft rubber ball. It could be peeled off and stood on its own while I focused on the chocolate cupcake inside. It had three holes in the bottom where they had somehow injected white marshmallow filling. I would eat that first and then turn back to the covering. I would bite segments out of it all the way around so it looked like a curved snowflake. Then I'd break the rest in half and consume it. I never worried about preservatives or hygiene and by the time I was done, I was totally happy as it was like playing with a toy that you could also eat.
As far as I can tell, a single cupcake once a week didn't have any impact on my weight or health. I ate three meals each day and checked the refrigerator at least five times just to make sure there wasn't anything else available for me to consume. I stayed hungry for most of my youth but I was provided good nutrition even though the amount of saturated fat was high. My level of exercise was also high and that kept me trim all the way through high school and college.
I don't eat Hostess Snowballs or Twinkies any more but I do have a weakness for Zingers, whoever makes them. The natural evolution of our diet continues with a lot of influence exerted through the school system in the unpopular lunch program that was imposed this year. There are predictions of "low fat" legislation that would either tax or ban high fat foods. We are already seeing cities and states implementing bans on transfats in cooking oils.
So I say to Hostess: "Thanks for the memories," and to the youth of today: "Go outside and play," and to the parents of today: "You, not the government, are in charge of the health of your children."
Editor's note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.