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Our Love-Hate Relationship with Candy

A review of  Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Americans have had a rocky relationship with candy over the years. At times candy has been the “go to” food, and other times it’s been demonized as the beginning of the path to destruction.  This love-hate relationship with candy is really quite interesting, and the focus of the book Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure, by Samira Kawash.  As someone who is around candy all the time, I found the book a great read. If you’d like a take a closer look at the American relationship with candy, and food in general, I think you would really enjoy it.

Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

In the book, Kawash details how we've perceived candy over the last century or so. For example, early in our understanding of nutrition, at times when calories were king, candy was touted as the perfect meal replacement. At other times it was professed that as candy digested it turned into alcohol, leading people to a life of alcoholism. At one point people even claimed that candy was worse than cigarettes, with ads suggesting you can replace your craving for sweets with a smoke. Contrast that with value placed on candy during World War II, when candy was part of every soldier’s rations

In addition to providing historical information about candy, this book shines in providing a context for that history.  Obviously candy doesn't exist in a food vacuum. Like most foods, as mass production, new ingredients, and changing nutritional trends and guidelines emerged, candy changed; and as candy changed, so did people’s perceptions of it. Additionally, as society and science progressed, attitudes towards candy were bound to change. Kawash does an excellent job of showing us how these factors affected the marketing, production and consumption of candy over time.

On a personal note, I love the fact that the book addresses a question that was big when I was a child – Halloween candy safety. When I was young, people were lead to believe there was serious danger in Halloween candy, including the infamous razor in the candy bar. Kawash does the research and comes to the conclusion that the danger was really overblown and there was actually no valid cause for alarm (see Mom, I told you!).

The book opens with the author’s telling us about a “Jelly Bean incident” in which another parent gets REALLY freaked out when she offers their child a few jelly beans; almost as if she had offered the child drugs. She ends the book by suggesting that with candy, as in most things, the key is really just moderation. While that’s certainly a valuable lesson for those who don’t already know it, the path Kawash takes from here to there in this book is thoroughly entertaining and educational. If you are truly interested in learning about the history of candy in America, this is a very thorough and intelligent resource.

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