Candy Is Dandy

Reply Wed 27 Oct, 2010 10:23 pm
It's not often that one comes across a defense of candy these days.


The New York Times
October 26, 2010
Is Candy Evil or Just Misunderstood?

FOR Samira Kawash, a writer who lives in Brooklyn, the Jelly Bean Incident provided the spark.

Five years ago, her daughter, then 3, was invited to play at the home of a new friend. At snack time, having noted the presence of sugar (in the form of juice boxes and cookies) in the kitchen, Dr. Kawash, then a Rutgers professor, brought out a few jelly beans.

The mother froze. Her child had never tasted candy, she explained, but perhaps it would be all right just this once. Then the father weighed in from the other room, shouting that that they might as well give the child crack cocaine.

“It was clear to me that there was an irrational equation of candy and danger in that house,” Dr. Kawash said in a recent interview. “And that was irresistible to me.”

From that train of thought, the Candy Professor blog was born http://candyprofessor.com/. In her writing there, Dr. Kawash dives deep into the American relationship with candy, finding irrational and interesting ideas everywhere. The big idea behind Candy Professor is that candy carries so much moral and ethical baggage that people view it as fundamentally different — in a bad way — from other kinds of food.

“At least candy is honest about what it is,” she said. “It has always been a processed food, eaten for pleasure, with no particular nutritional benefit.” Today, she said, every aisle in the supermarket contains highly manipulated products that have those qualities.

And, she points out, many people who avoid candy will cheerfully eat sugar-packed chocolate-chip energy bars and drink Gatorade for health reasons, although a serving of Gatorade contains about the same amount of sugar as a dozen pieces of candy corn. Dr. Kawash’s expertise is in American culture and gender studies, but some nutritionists share her views on the pariah status of candy.

“I don’t think candy is bad for you,” said Rachel Johnson, a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont who was the lead author of the American Heart Association’s comprehensive 2009 review of the scientific literature on sugar and cardiovascular health.

Dr. Johnson said that candy is considered bad because it lacks the “health halo” that hovers over sweet food like granola bars and fruit juice. “Nutritionally there is little difference between a gummy bear and a bite of fruit leather,” she said.

Dr. Johnson also noted that candy provides only 6 percent of the added sugar in the American diet, while sweet drinks and juice supply 46 percent. “There’s reason to believe that sugar in liquid form is actually worse than candy, because it fills you up and displaces healthier food choices,” she said.

Dr. Kawash, who studied architectural theory, narratives of women and medicine, and the imagery of terrorism before she began to write Candy Professor, has complicated feelings about her current specialty. She describes her childhood in Sunnyvale, Calif., in the 1970s as an “endless, and mostly frustrating quest for candy,” restricted to a small weekly indulgence after church on Sundays. Later, she said, binges on gummy bears and spice drops fueled her undergraduate research at Stanford; more recently, she found herself flushing handfuls of candy corn down the toilet to prevent herself from eating “just a few more.”

“Obviously, my own relationship with candy is not totally healthy,” she admits.

Fortunately, some of that passion has now been channeled into research. There are many blogs devoted to tasting, photographing and tracking down obscure types of candy, such as Candy Addict and Candy Blog, but Dr. Kawash’s work is rarely about taste or nostalgia. She is much more interested in untangling the threads of control, danger and temptation that candy has carried since it became widely available in the 1880s.

Until then, most candies — like fudge, brittle and taffy — were homemade, and store-bought hard candies like horehound sticks and peppermints were relatively expensive. But advances in technology enabled sugar to be spun, aerated, softened and flavored in new ways, and sold cheaply. Just like that, candy entered popular culture.

Dr. Kawash notes that candy, like cigarettes, was long advertised as having health benefits. “Eat Tootsie Rolls — The Luscious Candy That Helps Beat Fatigue,” reads one of the many ads she has exhaustively analyzed on her blog. One post is dedicated to the “slippage” between candy and medicine that she has found in a close reading of the history of cough drops — hard candy in a socially acceptable form.

But there have always been what she calls “candy alarmists,” who warned that candy was too stimulating, too soporific, poisoned, or otherwise hazardous. Dangerous candy appears in many fairy tales, a theme continued with the modern public-safety message, “Don’t take candy from strangers,” and in public scares over tampering and contamination. (Dr. Kawash recently detailed how all of this led to the candy wrappers we know today in The Journal of American Culture.)

In the early 20th century, she said — in the absence of any medical evidence — doctors blamed candy for the spread of polio. In the 1970s, refined sugar approached the top of the food counterculture’s list of enemies, spurred by international best sellers like “Sugar Blues” and “Sweet and Dangerous.” Tooth decay was the longtime threat; more recently, the global spread of obesity has prompted fears of the “empty calories” in candy.

Now a tentative cook and a buyer of organic eggs, Dr. Kawash is convinced that candy is often the scapegoat when Americans sense that something is wrong in the food supply. The social critic in her says that corn syrup and the cheap candy produced with it have unhinged our notions of how much candy is too much. At the same time, the historian in her can’t help pointing out that “corn syrup was a wonderful thing for candy.” Its invention in the late 19th century made the commercial production of soft confections like fudge and candy corn possible.

The disruption of traditional agricultural systems — including the presence of corn in so many processed foods — has also dislodged candy from its established place as an occasional treat.

“Candy should not be sold in huge bags at the drugstore,” said Jennifer King, a founder of Liddabit Sweets, a small candy company in Brooklyn that proudly sells candy bars — such as a recreated Snickers — for as much as $6.50. Liddabit products are indulgent but also virtuous: Ms. King and her partner, Liz Gutman, make treats like apple-maple lollipops and spiced caramel chews by hand, from prestigious and often local ingredients. (The honey in the honeycomb candy is gathered from hives in New York City.)

Dr. Kawash says that the fetishization of candy ingredients and the aestheticization of candy — like the color-coordinated candy landscapes now popular at weddings — are relatively new.

“When the moneyed classes indulge in sugar, it’s part of an acceptable leisure activity,” she said, chewing over the significance of high-end candy destinations like Dylan’s Candy Bar.

“But when poor people do the same thing, it’s considered pathological,” she added, citing the current debate over using food stamps to buy soda, candy and other “bad” foods.

Dr. Kawash, 46, retired from teaching in 2009. She said that her increasing interest in candy was making it difficult to fulfill her administrative, teaching and parental responsibilities, and knew that studying the evolution of the shape of the Hershey’s Kiss would never win her respect within the academy.

The blog is not so much a public forum, she said, as a “research trail,” a way of chronicling the hours she now spends reading old issues of Confectioners’ Journal, scanning patent applications, and combing archived phone books to count the number of candy shops in Brooklyn in 1908 (564).

Dr. Kawash says her research is partly fueled by anger toward candy manufacturers who publish inaccurate, often sugarcoated histories of their products. In fact, she says, the home-kitchen inventions of candy-shop owners were often simply copied, stolen or swallowed up by large companies.

“The history of candy, like the history of wars, is always written by the winners,” she said. “We can’t just let that go unchallenged.”

Apart from chocolate (which I consider a health food Smile), I rarely buy candy except at Halloween to give the trick or treaters. And the number of children coming around has so dwindled over the years I am usually left with most of that. So, naturally, I have taken to buying the type of candy I don't mind being stuck with--Kit Kats, Twix, Midnight Milky Way (if I can find them), and, sometimes Snickers. Because I have allegedly purchased this not for myself, but for the costumed doorbell ringers, I do feel much less guilty about having this "junk" in the house and happily nibbling on it for the next few weeks, or even months.

Need candy be such a guilty pleasure?

Has candy gotten a bum rap?

Are you a candy fan?

Any personal favorites?

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Reply Wed 27 Oct, 2010 10:31 pm
I'll take the crack cocain... You know, many people know the part played by coal in the industrial revolution, and so, in history... Most are blind to the role of another carbon compound in history and in the industrial revolution: Sugar...
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Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 03:11 am
Anyone blind to sugar in cultures (and not just industrial cultures) must be blind to damned near everything. Both ethnologists and genetecists have awoken to the fact that we are evolutionarily pre-disposed to want fats and sugars. In a hunter-gatherer socieity in a temperate and especially in a periglacial climate, humans, like all animals, lard up before winter. Which is to say, they put as much fat on and thereby store as much energy as possible. By late winter and early spring, they'll be nearing starvation if they have survived at all. Having a hunger for sugars is a natural attribute. Sugars represent energy right now, and allow someone to save the fat reserves which our ancestors needed to get them through the lean times of late winter and early spring. Those were lean times which could be and often were lethal. Sugar cravings are natural, even if our ancestors didnn't have access to refined cane sugar.
Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 05:28 am
A Butterfinger rules . . only if it's a good one.

I have noticed the altering of the quality of the candies I remember from childhood. They just don't taste as good. Bad chocolate.

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Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 06:24 am
Once again, I think we have just gotten carried away with serving sizes.

Candy, a bite or two, if the body is already satisfied with other protein, whole grains, etc. is a treat.

We seemed to have lost the use of that word "treat" when relating it to humans.

We give our dogs, cats and other pets "treats", meaning 1 or 2 little nibbles of something.

I think the word lagniappe perfectly expresses what a serving of candy should be; a little something extra, something thrown in for good measure.

When my little neighbor R. was about 3.5, I was at her house while she was eating dinner. Her mom had given her a tiny bowl, that would hold maybe and ounce or 2, filled with honey. R. was using the honey as a dip for her cornbread. At one point, putting the honeyed cornbread in her mouth, she said "MMMM....I love honey!" Her mom said, including R. in the comment "Yeah! R. can have ALL the honey she wants, as long as it fits in that bowl."

I thought that was so cool. R. could choose to NOT have all that was in the bowl, or all that was in the bowl.
You know what? She didn't wipe the bowl clean with the cornbread or her finger. She'd had all she wanted, and left a few drops in the bowl.
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Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 06:25 am
"We are a species that has evolved to survive starvation, not to resist abundance." Love that quote. (Atul Gawande.)

I read that article in the paper, I was thinking when I read it that moderation is the key. I did think she had a good point about Gatorade and fruit leather and other stuff that's considered "healthy." While I'm not pro-candy per se, I'm anti-anti-candy. (Have a little once in a while, big deal, don't have a cow about it. Meanwhile, watch that fruit leather.)
Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 06:27 am
soz, reading the article pasted above, I got stopped by that friut leather comment. I thought something to the effect of "what's so healthy about fruit leather? I would give a kid that crap either."
Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 06:30 am
That's a pretty standard hippy-dippy "healthy" snack. Kids love 'em. Sozlet has them now and then (not terribly often and now that she has a palate expander she can't anymore anyway), but I definitely put 'em in the same category as Snickers or whatever (which she also has occasionally).
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Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 06:58 am
I remember reading about an experiment a few years back -- scientists put kids, one at a time, in a room full of candy. Some of the kids were told they could eat all the candy they wanted; others were told not to eat any candy.

The kids told to eat all the candy they wanted ate LESS candy than the ones told ot to eat the candy.

As to the article: I don't understand how people who don't ever allow their kid to make choices ever expect their child to learn to make good choices.
Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 07:09 am
Gatorade is definitely not something i'd consider healthy. Basically, it's just water with artificial coloring, sugar and chlorine salt. Everlast, the company whose name is famously seen on the front of the trunks boxers wear, made a sports drink back in the late 80s, early 90s. It really did replace electrolytes--it contained the chlorine salt, but it also contained phosporus, potassium and magneusium salts. But it didn't last long. Gatorade has that whole NFL and college football thing going for it. At a negligible cost, they can advertise by putting big coolers of Gatorade, with the name prominently displayed, on the sidelines of college and pro football games.

Kids need those other mineral salts, too, not just NaCl. This is especially true of potassium, which can reasonably be described as the sparkplug of the metabolism. Peanuts and bananas are good sources of potassium that kids will readily eat. I'd go with the dry roast peanuts, but otherwise, any form is good, including peanut butter. You already know who i consider to have the best nut butters.
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Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 07:15 am
I wasn't a big candy eater as a kid. I remember playing at a friends house, there were maybe 4 or 5 of us girls there. Someone got the idea "hey, let's all go home and get money, and go to the candy store"
We all went home, got some nickles and pennies and tromped down to the end of the block, to where the store was.
There were the bins of penny candies, dots, licorice whips, candy cigarettes, and what all. Inside I felt like there was nothing there I wanted, it all seemed so, I don't know, dry and useless looking. One girl got a really extravagent treat, a nutty buddy. I'd never seen one before, and thought it looked gross. I didn't say any of this though, because that would make me not fit in. What I remember most is this realization this is something these girls did on a regular basis, and I didn't quite know how it all worked, choosing the candy, asking for it, etc. Heh, I remember thinking "we're taking up this guys time with pennies. I'll bet he wishes we would leave." Yeah, I can imagine having 5 little girls flood into your store all at once, when trying to take care of customers, watch those teenagers in the corner, etc. wasn't exactly the high point of his day.
I got something, don't remember what, but it was just as dry and useless as it looked, IMO.
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Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 08:31 am
sozobe wrote:
"We are a species that has evolved to survive starvation, not to resist abundance." Love that quote. (Atul Gawande.)

This reminded me that cultures have celebrated abundance. Among the Polynesian islanders, the gross obesity of their wives was evidence of their prosperity. The same attitude prevailed among the Europeans in the late middle ages. Albrecht Dürer's women were always generously proportioned, and sometimes downright fat.




(I don't think these images are inappropriate, given their artistic nature, and the intent in displaying them.)

The German bourgoisie considered a fat wife an outward sign of their prosperity, just as did the aristocracy of Polynesia.
Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 08:52 pm
As an occasional treat, I find that a few of these can be quite satisfying..
Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 09:04 pm
I keep a little secret stash of the buttered popcorn Jelly Bellies at my desk. I don't have to share - everyone else thinks they're just weird.

those and violet soap flavoured candies

Reply Thu 28 Oct, 2010 09:31 pm
I like the jalepeno jelly beans

How about bacon, anybody think of bacon jelly beans? I had bacon ice cream and it were good.
Reply Fri 29 Oct, 2010 02:55 am
There's a candy store here in t.o. which has the Jelly Belly jelly beans in bins, so you can name your flavor and buy 'em by the scoop.
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Reply Fri 29 Oct, 2010 03:02 am

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Reply Fri 29 Oct, 2010 03:52 am
Bacon air freshener ? ! ? ! ?

I'll take a dozen, please.
Reply Fri 29 Oct, 2010 04:10 am
Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker? Love your allusion to Ogden Nash.

I have to be careful of the sweets that I eat but I love, love, love a milkyWay


No danger of me getting fat, however
Reply Fri 29 Oct, 2010 04:23 am
Mr. Salt: [noticing signs on vats] Wonka. Butterscotch? Buttergin? Got a little something going on the side?
Willy Wonka: Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.
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