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Food for your thoughts: There’s a lot of Twinkies out there, and that’s a fact

Voice of the Clarion

Posted: Sunday, March 05, 2006

Earth reached a milestone of sorts on Feb. 25. Somewhere on the planet a baby was born, pushing the world’s population above 6.5 billion.

That’s a lot of Twinkies!

It got me searching for other assorted recently discovered facts of interest concerning the size of things.

I’ve compiled a list.

A team of astrophysicists used a pair of telescopes — one in Hawaii, another in orbit — to image the light of a galaxy 13 billion light years away. They got help from the natural focusing effect of the gravity field around a huge cluster of galaxies somewhat nearer Earth that bent and magnified the light from the more distant galaxy, just like the lenses in a pair of eyeglasses.

That galaxy, the astronomers assured us last Sunday, is the most distant object discovered so far in the universe.

No doubt they had to sit behind the telescope a long, long time — probably while downing Twinkies and significant quantities of coffee.

Last month, according to an article by Robin Lloyd appearing on the LiveScience.com Web site, a two-legged monster of a dinosaur called Spinosaurus was officially tagged the biggest carnivore known to science.

A discovery 11 years ago — Giganotosaurus — had held that distinction until Cristiano Dal Sasso of the Civil Natural History Museum in Milan began insisting a Spinosaurus skull he was examining put Giganoto out of the running. Based on that skull bone, Spino had jaws like a crocodile, was 55 feet long, and weighed eight tons. That’s roughly equivalent to 210,000 Twinkies.

The beast lived, presumably quite well, without Twinkies or any other confection about 100 million years ago in Argentina, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Apparently Argentina and Morocco were a lot closer together back then.

Speaking of gigantic, have you taken a good look at the national debt ceiling lately? Me neither. It seems this so-called legal cap on borrowing by the federal government which Congress raises every so often because, well, it can currently stands at $8.18 trillion.

Stack that many Twinkies end to end and you’re staring a one whopping stomachache. It’s enough cream-filled sponge cake to cover every square inch of the Municipality of Anchorage to a depth of just over 4 inches which, come to think about it, doesn’t seem like a bad idea. There’s a proposal to raise the debt ceiling to $9 trillion, perhaps as soon as this month. That would equate to a personal debt of more than $3,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. I’ll let you do the Twinkie math. It’s too depressing.

Incidentally, China is financing a lot of that debt. Comforting, huh? Probably buying tanker loads of Twinkies, too, engineering the trade-deficit equivalent of a missile gap.

By the way, Interstate Bakeries Corp., which owns the iconic Hostess Twinkies and Wonder Bread trademarks, operates 52 bakeries across the country, where it employs about 30,000 people, and manufactures roughly about 500 million Twinkies each year, delivering them fresh to more than 200,000 food outlets.

Baking 9 trillion would take 18,000 years. “I have to make the doughnuts,” is insufficient lament for that colossal waste of time.

By the way, Interstate Bakeries ranked 509th on Fortune 500’s list of top 1,000 companies in 2005, based on 2004 financial data, and reportedly saw its profits fall $25.7 million that year. Rumor has it they’ve thought about moving Twinkie manufacturing to China, except that China’s national security policy won’t let that many calories out of the country at one time for fear they won’t come back.

Wal-Mart, it turns out, topped Fortune’s list, realizing $10.2 billion in profits out of a gargantuan $288.2 billion in revenues. You can get Twinkies at Wal-Mart.

Know which was number two? ExxonMobil. It had $271 billion in revenues in 2004, but actually made more in profits ($25.3 billion) than Wal-Mart. (Exxon recently reported its 2005 profits at $36 billion). ConocoPhillips, meanwhile, was seventh, with $8 billion in profits in 2004. Against their combined capital strength, Interstate is a Twinkie.

So is Alaska, which projects just $7.8 billion in total revenues for fiscal year 2007. Not bad, but it sort of makes the oil companies the heavies at the table, eh? And them guys ain’t eatin’ Twinkies.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia about Twinkies. It seems there is an urban legend suggesting Twinkies never go bad and can actually remain fresh for decades because they’re entirely artificial and contain no real food. One claim has it the ingredients include an embalming chemical.

According to Snopes.com, Hostess (now owned by Interstate) launched Twinkies in Schiller Park, Ill., in 1930. Originally filled with banana cream, the company substituted vanilla cream during World War II when the banana supply dried up. “Yes, We Have No Bananas” was a World War I song inspired by the same kind of shortage, according to Snopes.com.

Now Twinkies, it seems, actually have a shelf life of 25 days, which happens to be a long time for a baked good. That’s due primarily to their lack of dairy ingredients.

Producing 500 million a year uses up and estimated 8 million pounds of sugar, 7 million pounds of flour and a million eggs.

It takes a hen of laying age about a day to create and lay an egg — “Babawk!” That egg typically contains 75 kilocalories (about 310 kilojoules, a measure of energy). The typical Twinkie is roughly twice as endowed, so hens, being female, have to work twice as hard as the typical Twinkie just to keep up — and they don’t get nearly the respect. Almost 18 times as many chickens were slaughtered in the U.S. in 2004 as Twinkies were consumed. Clearly we don’t think much of chickens.

I’m hungry.

Hal Spence is a reporter for the Clarion.



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