Halloween day at Wegmans was a furious tide of last-minute shoppers stuffing their carts with candy. I was chagrined to see such a display of procrastination on the part of so many Mo’towners because I, on the other hand, had bought my trick-or-treat goodies at the beginning of the month, with a clear mind and a total lack of spontaneity.
I bought what I always buy for the witches and ninjas that find their way to my front door: Three Musketeers. The reason I buy that fluffy confection is that I hate Three Musketeers and would never stoop to devour the leftovers the way I would with practically any other chocolate/sugar concoction. If you haven’t already figured it out, candy is my drug of choice.
One of my earliest candy-centric memories is going to Kunkel’s, the penny candy store a stone’s throw from the Westmont Theater, where I spent practically every Saturday afternoon of my young life. I was given 50 cents: a quarter to get into the horror movie matinee, and another quarter to spend on refreshments. I’m sure Kunkel’s sold other things. I remember looking up at the shelves while waiting in line one time and seeing sleds and ancient games, a Howdy Doody marionette whose face was bearded with dust.
Most of my Kunkel time was spent with my nose pressed to the glass case, totting up what I wanted to buy. Red Hot Dollars? Root Beer Barrels? Turkish Taffy? Licorice sometimes made an appearance in my candy daydream, but never black licorice, always red. Once the pennies had been spent, a small-yet-hefty paper bag was placed in my hand. I felt like the wealthiest girl in the world and would grasp that bag tightly until the movie began.
Needless to say, my dentist was thrilled beyond words. My father? Not so much. But he had a sweet tooth of his own to contend with. One time, after a Novocaine extravaganza, my cheeks squirrel-like with cotton, he patted me on the head and said, “Honey, if sugar is the worst of your demons, you’ll be okay.” But as obesity and diabetes statistics rise in our country, sugar is not as harmless as one might think. Then again, when weighed against other vices like cigarettes and alcohol with equally alarming statistics, I think I’ll stick with sugar.
Apparently I’m not the only one jonesing for sugar, as verified by a boatload of statistics about chocolate and sugar consumption found on the Internet. According to the Huffington Post, 90 million pounds of chocolate candy is sold in the week leading up to Halloween. After what I witnessed last Thursday, I’d say much of it is bought, impulsively, the day of. Ninety million pounds of candy adds up to revenue close to $2 BILLION, with chocolate accounting for almost $1.2 billion. The rest is spent on candy corn and other sugar candies.
Americans purchase over 20 million pounds of candy corn each year. This makes sense to me, because although it has a very short shelf life, there are so many other uses for it. If you ever need emergency earplugs during October, just grab a couple of candy corn kernels and press them into service. Rumor has it if you rub candy corn on a wart, it will miraculously disappear. (The candy corn—not the wart.) Other uses for candy corn? An impromptu set of horns, a 3-D manicure, or perhaps a talisman to ward off vampires and politicians.
Who invented candy corn? George Renninger and his Wunderle Candy Company created it right across the Delaware in Philadelphia in the 1880s, and it has been polarizing candy lovers ever since. Much like those neon-orange delights called “circus peanuts,” you either love candy corn or you hate it. There is no in-between. There is also no known nutritional value, unlike chocolate, the elixir of life.
Chocolate reigns for a very good reason. It contains two chemicals that fuel sexual desires: tryptophan, which increases serotonin production, and phenylethylamine, which the brain releases when falling in love. Chocolate is also rich in flavonols, a substance that protects the body against oxidative damage and also claims to improve blood flow to the brain and heart. The amount of these chemicals might be miniscule, but anything that increases the “feel-good” chemical serotonin in your brain can’t be a bad thing. It is said women crave chocolate more than men. My husband eats his fair share of M&M’s on a regular basis, and when I make chocolate chip cookies, they disappear very quickly. I sometimes have to siphon off a dozen and hide them, just so I get to enjoy a few. Maybe men just aren’t as vocal as women about their love of all things chocolate.
I draw the line at white chocolate, which isn’t really chocolate at all. It is cocoa butter, sugar and some sort of dairy product. As I’ve aged, I’ve grown to prefer dark chocolate, but I’m in the minority. Apparently most chocolate lovers prefer milk chocolate to dark. Then there are those who will eat any kind of chocolate in any form, shape or vessel.
I could easily fall into that category. As a matter of fact, I could easily fall into a vat of chocolate and live happily ever after, so I’ve learned several tricks to prevent an unintentional overdose at Halloween.
Rule number one: Always buy candy you don’t like. The preference for chocolate over sugary, gummy treats doesn’t really kick in with kids until the age of 10 or 11, so feel free to stock up on gummy worms, Twizzlers and Nerds—sweets only a desperate adult would eat.
Rule number two: Whatever is left over needs to be whisked from the house as soon as possible. Take it to work, donate it to a church, or set up a “free candy” kiosk on Main Street.
In the wise words of Dave Barry: "My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished two bags of M&Ms and a chocolate cake. I feel better already."
I can't help but wonder what Mr. Barry gives out on Halloween!