Confessions of a Hydrox Cookie

 

 

 

First, it was my name. Not the “cookie” part—it took a while for me to realize how sexist that was, as condescending as “cupcake,” as hopeful as “Candy.” What is it with the sweet stuff, guys, wishful thinking? But no, my albatross was “Hydrox.” I sounded like a sterile chemical. And in fact, that was the point: in the early 1900s, everybody was so worried about contaminated food that my people, knowing that water was pure (because back then, it was), thought it would be clever to combine its chemical elements. Never mind that this made me sound like a vile mouthwash or a toilet bowl cleaner.

My packaging was not exactly sexy, either. That streamlined Old English font would have better served a book of Christmas carols. Also, I was darker than the competition, in a racist country, and less sweet, in a country seduced by sugar.

But none of that should have mattered. I was kosher, for God’s sake. I was embossed. Not to mention healthier, with a crisper texture and a more chocolatey taste. In my early years—that glorious, innocent stretch between 1908 and 1912—I was the nation’s favorite sweet biscuit.

And then that goddamned Oreo stole my flower (an oreodaphne twined with laurel leaves on my front and backside) and blazed that cute little name in the center, and threw tons of money into advertising, telling kids to twist an Oreo apart. Like it was a game or something.

I kept it together through all of that, but when Oreo raised its price and called itself “the highest class biscuit” and everybody decided I was the cheap imitation? The knockoff? To this day, I have flashbacks, bad days, times it all floods back like spilled milk and sogs me to the core. You think late-stage capitalism is grim? Mine was the American tragedy Arthur Miller should have written.

You have probably never heard of my people, Jacob and Joseph Loose, but they were two nice brothers who bought a bakery in the Midwest. Jacob got excited about forming a conglomerate, something new at the time, with two other bakeries. But then our rivals ganged up, too, and profits started to drop, and Jacob got sick and went off to Europe to recover, and while he was gone, his little brother decided to form an even bigger conglomerate, one that would include our rivals. “Please do not team up with the very people who drove me to my sickbed,” Jacob begged, but it was too late.

The joke was on Joe: the guy who helped him form the conglomerate, National Biscuit Co. (you know it as Nabisco, I spit on the name) listed himself as president and the Loose brothers merely as board members. Game on. Now up against the monster conglomerate he had created, Joe launched us, sweet cakes, soon to be called cookies. And because chocolate was the hot new ingredient, he made that our flavor. And it worked!—until Nabisco stole his embossed chocolate sandwich cookie and crushed him. A painful data point from 1998: Oreo sales reached $374 million, ours, $16 million.

By then, Keebler had bought us. They listened about the name, and after the elves flirted with Hydihos (I know), Hydunks, and Choco Twists, they rechristened us Droxies. That was fine, just cute enough. But the problem with elves is that they are gutless. “We have no intention of going up against Oreos head-on,” admitted the Marketing Director for Cookies (yes, that is her title). She said they would look for ways to differentiate Droxies. When pressed, she admitted they had yet to find any. I guess being the original and superior cookie did not strike them as a selling point. Novelty, they wanted. Gimmicks.

Sink or float, then. And they only gave us two years before they gave up on us. Then Kellogg bought Keebler (it is rough out there) and in response to thousands of phone calls and a customer petition (thank you), they brought us back for our hundred-year anniversary.

And yanked us from their website a year later.

“This is a dark time in cookie history,” an astute loyalist told The Wall Street Journal.

What were the usurpers doing while we died? Adding colors, even a vile Halloween orange, and enough flavors for an ice cream shop, and doubling that cloying cream, and sprinkling it with glitter until it looked like burlesque pasties, and dipping themselves.

By 2019, they were setting records with $3.1 billion in revenue and taking bows as the world’s favorite cookie.

Does anybody out there care that Oreos were made with lard, so they could not be kosher, and when the lard was finally removed, it was replaced with something even worse for you, hydrogenated oil? Do you care that now they coyly say they use “palm and/or canola oil,” which just tells you they use a ton of that saturated palm stuff that is wiping out the rain forest, and as one discerning woman remarked online, “They leave a greasy feel in your mouth”? Do you care that they contain high fructose corn syrup as well as sugar and are probably the cookie most directly responsible for the obesity epidemic? Or that they have to resort to artificial flavors? Apparently, you do not.

We are made with pure cane sugar, no artificial colors or flavors, no genetically modified ingredients. And our chocolate is unsweetened. (We, too, use palm oil, but no one is perfect.) How am I still here talking to you? We were rescued by Leaf Brands, who bring iconic stuff back to life. Kellogg did not even try to hold on to our trademark. Leaf Brands grabbed it, then found a box of us, unopened, on eBay, and had food scientists recreate the old recipe and healthy it up a bit more, no GMO ingredients, no artificial flavors.

That should be the happy ending. Instead, our rescuers had to file a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission against Mondelez International, the giant that bought Nabisco (do you see a pattern here?) after reports that Mondelez was hiding us on store shelves, shoving us to the back, turning us sideways, trying to pretend we do not exist. Forgive me if I sound shrill.

Leaf Brands filed a complaint in August 2018. We cookies never heard what happened, but they filed another complaint, same issue, in July 2021. We are waiting. Meanwhile, Mondelez laid off U.S. workers and took jobs to Mexico; that did not seem to bother y’all either. We are made in the USA, the country that fails to appreciate all we stand for, and independent thinkers still paw through the Oreos to find us. Amazon has trouble even keeping us in stock. The Food Crumbles reviewer acknowledged our “stronger chocolate scent and a more pronounced cocoa taste,” not to mention “smoother crème . . . less spackley” (I love that).

Joy now warms my creamy center. We are back, and the more this story is told, the better. It is a warning against corporate treachery, cutthroat competition, artifice, America’s childish preference for sugar and novelty, the passivity of the herd, and the immense difficulty of budging the consumer mind from its reflexive habits. When I was contacted about this piece, I was gratified that yet another account would be published.

Until I saw that the hastily chosen filename was “oreos.”

 

Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.

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