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Even an Apple a Day Can’t Keep Twinkies Away

Times Staff Writer

It’s Twinkie-trashing time, again.

It all began when State Health Services Director Kenneth W. Kizer suggested in a news conference Tuesday that school districts were sending the wrong message to children by banning apples--which may have been treated with the chemical Alar--from the lunchroom. They’d be worse off, he suggested, if they turned to Twinkies instead.

If kids don’t eat fruits and vegetables, he said, “What are they going to eat? Twinkies . . . and other junk?” Such a junk diet, Kizer warned, has been shown to cause cancer, heart disease, hypertension and other chronic ailments.

There you have what is known among the cognoscenti as the Twinkie threat. Once baby teeth start sinking into a Twinkie, the theory goes, children will become hooked on those creme-filled sponge-cake torpedoes.

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But, alas, with the exception of certain Twinkie-free zones in scattered parts of the country, the worst has already happened. Twinkies are on the street and in the schools.

Lorraine Kavis, a cafeteria worker at Santa Ana High School in Orange County, says kids demand them.

“We sell Twinkies,” she says. “We always have and we always will.”

Los Angeles Unified School District, however, doesn’t allow Twinkies to be sold at its schools--over the counter, that is--although candy bars and corn chips are big sellers.

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“I suspect it’s a cultural bias,” says one school official at North Hollywood High School, who, fearing retribution from nutritional purists, refused to give his name. “It’s a peculiar formula (within the district) where the food has to have 4% of the required nutrients. You have to have the wisdom of Solomon to figure it out.”

Not that Twinkies harbor any pretensions. Their main ingredient, listed on the package, is sugar, followed by enriched flour. The standard recipe, which hasn’t changed since the banana creme filling was replaced with the vanilla-flavored stuff in the 1940s, supplies 2% of the recommended daily allowance for protein, 6% each for thiamin and riboflavin and 4% each for niacin, calcium and iron.

This does not exactly put the Twinkie in the same league as, say, an oat bran-whole wheat-with-no-chemical-additives muffin.

“We don’t promote them as a nutritional kind of thing,” says Twinkie spokeswoman Catherine Dunkin of the Continental Baking Co. in St. Louis. “The thing about Twinkies is that if you have a balanced diet, you can enjoy them now and then.”

Now and then? Sales records show that generations of Americans have gone berserk over Twinkies (a legal defense, incidentally, which convinced a jury in 1979 that former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White should be convicted of manslaughter, instead of murder in the shooting of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk).

And little did Kizer know when he sounded the Twinkie alarm at his Los Angeles news conference that more Twinkies are sold here than any place else except Chicago, the birthplace of the Twinkie in 1930.

Twinkies for School Districts

Dunkin says that billions of Twinkies have been consumed by Americans over the years, including the millions that the company sells annually to school districts nationwide.

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“Some people say Twinkies are the quintessential junk food, but I believe in the things,” are the words that Jimmy Dewar, the father of the Twinkie, left to the world when he died at the age of 88 in 1985.

“I fed them to my four kids, and they feed them to my 15 grandchildren,” he said. “My boy Jimmy played football for the Cleveland Browns. My other son, Bobby, played quarterback for the University of Rochester. Twinkies never hurt them.”

So has Kenneth W. Kizer ever indulged in a Twinkie?

“Yes, I have eaten Twinkies,” he says, “And in days gone by, I probably ate too many. . . . And I even give them to my kids. When consumed in moderation, Twinkies are fine.”


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