Halloween

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:

NEXT: Friday Funnies: Trick or Treat

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Candy corn is fucking disgusting.

    That is all.

    1. The trick is to eat a wax mustache first.

      1. And a whole bag of circus peanuts.

        1. *barely holds vomit down*

    2. P.S. Apparently you did not read the alt-text.

      1. I read it.

        I smirked.

        Candy corn is still disgusting.

        1. Candi Corne on the other hand…

          1. Google image search produced nothing.

    3. Not the candy corn shown above. I would love to have some of THAT candy corn.

    4. Yes. If I wanted to eat the burnt wax from a candle, I’d eat the burnt wax from a candle.

      If you enjoy candy corn, there is something seriously wrong with your moral compass and you are, ipso facto a sociopathic serial pedophile rapist/murderer.

      Jus’ sayin’

      1. Do you get that from the new DHS watchlist guidelines?

        1. Did

    5. Heretic. Burn him!

      1. *turns flamer on Restoras*

        1. You’re all the worst sort of heretics. If we were in a room together I’d challenge all of you to a duel.

          Of course, I’d have a procession of orphans do my dirty work for me. No way would I sully my manicured and white-gloved hands with the blood of you lot.

        2. *turns flamer on Restoras*

          *pictures Restoras blasting a fire extinguisher at Richard Simmons*

          1. For that, sarc, you win a chainsword sinus clearing. Hold still while I drive the spinning blades up your nostril…

            (I really should have shown up to work dressed as a TechPriest today. Being an inquisitor is too much work.)

      2. I know I’ve been largely absent for a while. Work and having a newborn is making it impossible to chime in as often as I’d like, but I’m putting that aside to agree with Restoras.

        Candy corn is fucking delicious.

    6. Mix candy corn in with dry roasted peanuts…they only work as a mix, alone they are bleah.

    7. Here’s a good documentary on the history of candy corn. (It does take about 30 seconds to get to the candy corn)

    8. The only use I ever found for candy corn was back when my dad would put one in each nostril then eat them to gross out my mom.

    9. What’s not to love about “chicken feed”? It’s so snackable?sweet & salty. I can’t understand the revulsion against it. I mean, does everything have to be chocolate (or bacon)?

  2. 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?

    Kawash kind of misses the point. Candy is currency in Kidland, just as cigarettes are currency in prisons. Of course kids are going to treat trick-or-treating as a grind in that acquiring more candy gives them more bargaining power when it comes time to trade.

  3. Circus peanuts are the very worst things in the universe.

    1. When I was a kid I used to like them. Now, I agree with you. I was a kid in the late 1970’s early 1980’s. It could be that they have gone downhill – perhaps replacing real sugar with High Fructose Corn Shit for example.

      1. Unless you mean real peanuts – I assumed you meant candy peanuts.

        1. The 70’s you wouldn’t have made that assumption.

          1. I remember going to the circus with my family and getting hard sticky brown candies in the shape of peanuts. Sometimes they came in a hard plastic shell, also in the shape of a peanut. This was in central Ohio.

    2. If you mean those orange marshmallowy things, pretty much.

      You know those “Mr. Clean Magic Erasers”?

      They’re circus peanuts without the coloring.

      1. What I assumed he was talking about were the hard, kind of sticky, sweetened brown candies.

        In the late 70’s I thought they were good. Now, I can’t stand them.

        Fist? Which kind were you talking about?

        1. I remember them being orangish colored.

          1. Not the ones I had then.

        2. I assume the vari-colored peanut-shell-shaped sweet things that are puffy yet stiff (like Styrofoam), no flavor other than sugar. Not bad if you want a quick-yet-lasting hit of sugar that you can slowly dissolve in your mouth.

    3. This, to infinity and beyond.

    4. I find them useful for stopping a fuel leak in a pinch.

    5. Circus peanuts were the classic unwrapped “treat” we had to throw in the trash. Mom let us eazt the popcorn balls and candy apples from the neighborhood but unwrapped circus peanuts went straight in the trash.

      1. That was profligate and unneeded waste!

        They could have been employed to poison rats!

  4. 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.

    When I was trick or treating (90s), my favorite stop was always the farm at the end of our road because they gave out caramel popcorn balls. That shit is amazing.

  5. All candy corn was manufactured in 1917

    Candy corn is the unwanted byproduct of a failed wartime manufacturing experiment that extruded a food-like substance to make flotation devices for U.S. troops. (But there was a war on, and few noticed this failed experiment). The Defence Department was literally stuck with tons of excess sugary material. It was briefly used as ballast for the U.S. Navy during World War II, but when the sugary substance began rotting the hulls of warships, the government quietly sold its stockpiles of the yellow-and-white goo to candy purveyors, who didn’t care about its limited shelf life. Candy companies now sell their extra yearly inventory to Third World Countries, who use it to pave roads.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/…..n/3324863/

    I read it on the internet so it must be true.

    1. The National Confectioners Association estimates that 25 million pounds (just over 9,000 metric tons) of candy corn are sold annually.[5]

      Why? Dear god, why?

      1. Simple. Candy Corn is awesome. That is all.

        Now Indian Corn, on the other hand, is blasphemy.

        1. This. Candy corn is good.

          1. Do you eat candles as well?

  6. They say sugar is a poison so Halloween is a day where adults try to get rid of all the kids by giving them excessive amounts of candy. Doesn’t seem to work but they won’t stop trying. Maybe more candy next year?

  7. 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 candy tasted better when Postrel was running things.

  8. For several years in the 21st C. for trick-or-treat I gave bottles of my bubble bath: http://users.bestweb.net/~robgood/lather.html

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.