It seems all of America is sharing their favorite Twinkie memory, now that Hostess is filing for bankruptcy and its future is endangered.

Here’s my Twinkie memory: saying “no, thank you.” “No thanks” when a friend offered me one in the school cafeteria. “No thanks” at birthday parties. Not being able to trade lunches when there was a Twinkie involved. Saying, “No, thank you, I’m not allowed to eat them.”

There was to be no pork in our Jewish home. That was our line in the sand

Growing up, my family wasn’t particularly religious, but there was one rule my mother enforced energetically: there was to be no pork in our Jewish home. That was our line in the sand, the point beyond which other Jewish families might step, but we’d never venture. And Twinkies back in the 1970s contained lard, which put those all-American snacks firmly across that line.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it became a huge part of my identity.

Part of that is because I wasn’t alone in turning down Twinkies (also saying no to Ho-Hos, forgoing Yodels, and wondering what real Oreos tasted like while eating kosher lookalikes). A lot of the Jewish kids at lunchtime were similarly lard-challenged, and we were a group. It helped that some of us saw each other outside of school too, at Hebrew School and even on rare occasions at synagogue. We were the non-Hostess-eating kids, and though we might not have all been so close individually, that gave us an identity. We could exercise self-control. We had a higher purpose in our Twinkie abstinence. At lunchtimes, we were almost like a team.

And the other kids respected us. Perhaps it was strength in numbers; perhaps it was because our classmates respected beliefs that were so strong they could withstand processed sugar. But I remember the Twinkie-eating kids watching out for us. Saying, “I’ll trade you everything in my lunch except the Twinkie.” (Come to think of it, maybe that was just self-interest.) I remember them making sure there were non-lard-carrying options for the Jewish kids at birthday parties.

Today, I cherish the Twinkie-shaped hole in my memory just as strongly as my Twinkie-eating friends, maybe more.

For one thing, if Twinkies are emblematic of a kinder, gentler America to some people today, they represent the best of American decency to me: I’ll always remember my classmates’ sensitivity to their kosher-keeping friends. Their help in steering us away from the forbidden treats made us feel that our eating restrictions were valid, that we could still be ordinary kids even when we stuck to our religious beliefs.

The other kids respected us

As an adult, it’s helped me have the courage to embrace my growing religious beliefs. I learned early on that most people respect authenticity, and when they encounter someone eating certain foods or otherwise living according to their beliefs, they’ll often be supportive. It’s a heavy lesson to learn from one sugary snack, but then again, Twinkies always were special.

Those days passing up snacks in the cafeteria also helped me feel like a stronger person; it helped me realize I could control my impulses (even if they were just sugar-scarfing ones at the time).

Back in the early 1970s—just when my mother was starting to drum her “no lard in our home” mantra into us—researchers at Stanford experimented with preschool-age children. They’d sit the kids down one at a time, and place an array of treats in front of them—Oreos, marshmallows, and the like. The kids were given a choice: they could eat one goodie right away. Or, if they could sit for fifteen minutes and delay gratification, watching the treats but not eating them, when the time was up they could have two treats instead.

When I first learned of this famous experiment, I thought I would have aced that test: Oreos and most marshmallows (there are kosher kinds) had lard! I could have sat there ’til the cows came home. Nothing would have tempted me to eat all that chazerei (“junk,” in Yiddish).

So I was gratified to find that when researchers followed up the original kids in the experiment, they found that the children who were able to resist the treats (not because of anything having do with lard, but because they had self-control, I should point out) did significantly better in life. As teenagers, they had higher SAT scores. They did better in school and in relationships. Score! Passing up Twinkies thirty years ago was a small price to pay for—what, I don’t know. It’s hard to measure exactly how much self-control contributes to a person’s later success in life, but whatever it is, I’ll take it.

My Twinkie-less youth gave me a Jewish community and identity

Finally, my Twinkie-less youth gave me a Jewish community and identity too. A lot of those Twinkie-sacrificing classmates have remained through the years. (True, some of my Twinkie-eating non-Jewish classmates are still friends too, but we don’t have that Twinkie-abstaining bond.)

Later, when I left home and my “we don’t eat lard”–repeating mom was far away, the idea that I was Jewish and there were certain things I just didn’t do (and other things I did) never went away. When I went to college, I instinctively sought out a Jewish community. As an adult, I chose to take Jewish classes and join a synagogue. I sought to instill a strong Jewish identity in my own kids. It might be a stretch to say that my own deepening commitment to Judaism over the years stemmed from not eating Twinkies as a child, but I don’t think so. It made me think of myself as a Jew—as a Jew who followed at least some of Judaism—every single day.

One of my old Twinkie-teetotalling friends recently told me that she’s letting her own kids decide whether they’ll eat only kosher food or not. In fact, she told me, her son loves pork! But, she said, when he’s older he might decide to give it up. I thought how hard it will be for him if he does. It was so much easier for us with our blanket rules and our avoidance of Twinkies. Like smokers, it was easier never to start than to wrestle with giving anything up further down the line.

I’m sure Twinkies tasted good (well, I’m actually not so sure—they were awfully yellow and squeaky—but I’m sure the kids enjoyed them), but knowing they were off-limits was more of a gift, in retrospect, than eating them would have been.