The Politics of Halloween Candy
It was during my childhood that the Fear Police decided that Halloween candy should be checked for razor blades and cyanide. For a few glorious years before whatever triggered the fear that your neighbors were trying to kill your kids, we trick-or-treated unabashed, gorging ourselves on whatever we found in our bags, and discarding the apples and boxed of raisins simply because they weren't candy, not because there was a fear that they might be deadly.
Back in the pre-fear days, it wasn't unusual to get a baggie full of unwrapped candy—the more frugal neighbors simply created smaller portions from a larger bag, rather than buying individually wrapped—and often such bags contained a variety of candy, so that you could pick through a single "serving" and have everything from cordials to pretzels. And while we always tossed the plain, inevitably stale popcorn balls neighborhood grandmas seemed compelled to distribute, the rare caramel apple or caramel (or even, if we were lucky, chocolate-drizzled) popcorn ball was cause for celebration.
But then, of course, came the various edicts: Never eat anything unwrapped. Check wrappers for signs of tampering. Never eat fruit or other homemade items. Children everywhere heaved a sigh of relief at no longer being pestered to enjoy "that nice apple" or box of Sun-Maid raisins, but throwing away the baggies of good (albeit unwrapped) candy was somewhat sobering.
Despite that shift, I find that many of the "rules" of candy consumption from my youth seem to still stick with my in adulthood. To wit:
1) Candy classification. I have very clear memories of the serious business of dumping out our bounty after trick-or-treating and dividing the haul into piles of Most Desirable, Second Tier, Will Eat When Everything Else Is Gone, and Who Wants It. Most desirable candy would include things like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Mounds/Almond Joy, 100,000 Bars and Whatchamacallits (do those still exist?), Snickers/Milky Way, Krackle/Crunch Bar, Twix, Pop Rocks, and M&Ms. Second Tier would be things like JuJuBees, Swedish Fish, Twizzlers, candy corn, and good gum like Juicy Fruit. The grudgingly-consumed candy would be stuff like plain Hershey's Miniatures and Gobstoppers. Candy that languished in the bottom of the bucket was always stuff like salt water taffy and Paydays, and those were invariably from senior citizens who thought such things were a real treat. Heh.
2) Candy consumption rules. My parents attempted to set limits on the amount of candy consumed per day. So there would be edicts like "you can have two pieces after dinner," which then meant we kids would do our darndest to twist the rule to our favor as best we could. Which candies were biggest? A bag of M&Ms was technically only one piece even though it had a lot of pieces inside of it, right? Etc. Once I reached adulthood and my own children were bringing candy home, I delighted in watching them go through similar mental gymnastics to maximize their candy consumption at any given time, but I'll also confess to my own bouts of "I'll just eat this candy to get rid of it" because I didn't want there to be candy in the house, lest I'd be tempted to eat it. (You got that? That I was eating candy, so that I wouldn't… eat candy? So logical!)
3) Candy classification and rules influencing my buying habits. I am a full-grown adult and I still feel like I shouldn't be allowed to have candy if I want it. Or maybe it's that I feel like I have no control when it comes to having candy in the house. Either way, that seems rather pathetic when I write it out like that. Come Halloween season, depending on what state of mind I'm in about my body and my eating habits, I will purchase candy for our trick-or-treaters accordingly. If I feel okay about sneaking a few treats, I'll buy the good stuff I like. (This almost never happens, by the way.) If I'm feeling yucky about myself/my body, I buy candy I don't like (though I still try to buy something I think kids like; salt water taffy for Halloween still seems like a cruel joke, to me). And now that I have a problem with gluten, I just buy stuff with wheat in it so that I can't eat it. (Did you know Twizzlers are made with wheat? So unfair.)
All of this aside, yes, I will confess to nicking candy from my kids' stashes. I consider it a parental tax. And neither of them like Reese's Cups, so really, I'm performing a public service. Now if I could just ditch the stab of shame that comes with it….
Got any Halloween candy memories to share? What's your favorite goody for the season, and will you buy candy, or do you deprive yourself because of hang-ups?
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