The recent bankruptcy of Hostess and the passionate responses it evoked raise some interesting questions about our culture’s relationship with food. After the announcement, grocery stores reported a spike in sales of Twinkies and other Hostess products – suggesting that many customers may have been planning to hoard the products. This despite the fact that the rights to produce Hostess products will likely be purchased by another company, meaning Twinkies will probably not disappear off the face of the earth. In fact, in Canada, the rights to Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes are held by Saputo Inc. and production of the items has carried on unaffected. In addition, the announcement of Hostess’s bankruptcy sent social media feeds buzzing with comments about how sorely the company’s products would be missed. Clearly, people found the news distressing.
So why are people so attached to Twinkies? It’s not how they taste, of course. It’s emotional eating gone awry. Emotional eating often gets the short end of the stick in conversations about how to lead a healthy lifestyle. But as Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, says, emotional eating can be a good thing. I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed my Thanksgiving dinner last week immensely. In fact, I had two Thanksgiving dinners – a quiet one with my fiance on Thursday and a larger one I prepared with a friend on Friday. On both days, the cooking and eating reinforced the bonds I share with those I care about.
Sharing a meal with a loved one is a powerful way to connect. Rituals around food create a sense of continuity and shared meaning. Favorite foods from childhood evoke powerful memories. Eating should be emotional. We should allow ourselves to enjoy and appreciate our food – rather than scarfing it down mindlessly in the car or in front of the TV. Human beings have a powerful capacity for emotional eating, and that’s a good thing.
What’s not good is when the corporate food system takes advantage of that capacity and uses it to sell us Twinkies and other harmful products. The dismay that many people demonstrated at learning of the potential demise of the Twinkie demonstrates how out of touch we are as a culture with what we put in our bodies. Many of us don’t cook. We don’t know where our food comes from or how it’s prepared. Our children can’t identify fairly commonplace vegetables. We’ve allowed the corporate food system to convince us that convenience is better than quality when it comes to food. So we take our capacity for emotional eating and apply it to Twinkies, rather than a beloved family recipe.
The antidote to this is to learn more about food. Read about the organic and local food movements. Eat better quality food and learn to tell the difference between real food and fake food. Cook more. Emotional eating is often a good thing because it is a part of the larger picture of what it means to be truly nourished. Enjoying good foods nourish both the body and the spirit. But when we stop eating real food and eat processed, packaged foods instead – and then become emotionally attached to those foods – we do ourselves a terrible disservice because we begin to convince ourselves that we actually feel nourished by these processed foods. When we’re used to eating frozen dinners every night, we start to believe we don’t even want better food.
That’s not to say that the occasional nostalgic bowl of Count Chocula is a crime. Enjoying those kinds of products every once in a while is not necessarily a bad thing. No food should be forbidden because that can cause us to associate a moral value with particular foods, which further distorts our relationship with eating and leaves us with unnecessary feelings of guilt. However, when we take the time to cook and to be mindful of what we eat, we are much more likely to choose whole, organic, local foods. And that is enormously beneficial for our bodies, our spirits, and our local food cultures and economies.