Why We Eat Candy at Halloween: Virginia Postrel Investigates


As Veronique de Rugy explained two days ago, Halloween candy is more expensive than it should be thanks to really awful, protectionist sugar policies that gift U.S. companies market share and profits.

But why do we buy so much candy at Halloween in the first place? Over at Bloomberg View, former Reason Editor Virginia Postrel talks with Samira Kawash, the author of the delectably titled book Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure, to find out. Kawash is a retired professor of literature at "Dear Old Rutgers." Her site, Candy Professor, is worth a click-thru.

(Side note: This is exactly the sort of fascinating information that Postrel is brilliant at discovering! She makes illuminating connections and does the sort of original research all of us journos aspire to but rarely pull off.)

"For more than a century, we've simultaneously gorged on the stuff and felt guilty about it," notes Postrel. "It's an intensified version of our ambivalent and fickle attitudes toward abundant, convenient, mass-produced food in general."

It turns out that the Halloween-candy connection is a post-war development, likely growing out of the massification of wealth and industrial production. From the Q&A:

[Postrel]: When and how did candy become associated with Halloween? Was trick-or-treating just concocted to sell candy?

[Kawash]: Would you believe the earliest trick-or-treaters didn't even expect to get candy? Back in the 1930s, when kids first started chanting "trick or treat" at the doorbell, the treat could be just about anything: nuts, coins, a small toy, a cookie or popcorn ball. Sometimes candy too, maybe a few jelly beans or a licorice stick. But it wasn't until well into the 1950s that Americans started buying treats instead of making them, and the easiest treat to buy was candy. The candy industry also advertised heavily, and by the 1960s was offering innovative packaging and sizes like mini-bars to make it even easier to give out candy at Halloween. But if you look at candy trade discussions about holiday marketing in the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween doesn't even get a mention.

There's a great discussion of the tainted-candy scares of the 1970s and much more. I'll leave you with this:

[Postrel]: Your book starts with a story in which another parent compares your child's jelly beans to crack cocaine. How does Halloween candy survive in a culture where candy is seen as dangerous?

[Kawash]: Well, number one is, kids love it! And I think our society really does have a very ambivalent relation to candy, which includes both extremely positive and extremely negative feelings. I do feel like the candy part of Halloween has gone overboard, though. There are so many fun things about the holiday, but all too often kids end up obsessed with just piling up as much candy as they can. When kids are just marching from house to house and holding out their bag, trick-or-treating seems kind of joyless, more like work. Hmm, I wonder where they learned that?

Read the whole thing.

Reason blogger and "Free Range Kids" activist Lenore Skenazy gives "3 Ways Parents Are Ruining Halloween." Take a look: