Culinary no-no #751 -The Trick or Treat edition


Trick or Treat articles:

Big Candy Bars Have No Place on Halloween
They ruin the “fun” of the fun-size treat.
The Atlantic, October 31, 2017

Full-size candy bars are the holy grail of Halloween. For many trick-or-treaters, they are seen as the ultimate bounty—a proper, grown-up Snickers or Milky Way with which to mock less-fortunate peers before engorgement. For those giving out the candy, they offer a not-so-subtle way to outdo the neighbors—Halloween as potlatch. The house with the full-size bars is the best house on the block.

Though tempting, the practice is wrong-headed. Giving out full-size candy bars misses the point of Halloween. Here’s why.

It’s not clear when the fun-size category first appeared in the candy aisle. Hershey’s Miniatures played the matter straight for decades. They were small versions of traditional bars. Then bite-size candy appeared in reception-desk bowls and Halloween tubs. As a descriptor, bite-size is both accurate and soulless. Though mostly a marketing term, fun-size is the right way to think about Halloween candy from a gastronomic perspective.

To understand why, it’s first necessary to understand what fun means. That’s easier said than done. It’s a word that people use without really knowing what they mean by it. Fun seems connected to enjoyment, but it also feels different than pleasure—hard things like games and sports can be fun, for example. As a game designer, I’ve thought a lot about the mystery of fun, and here’s what I’ve come up with: Fun is the feeling of finding something new in something familiar. Reaching a new accomplishment in a difficult task at work. Succeeding at an act on the pitch or in the gym that had previously resulted in failure. Doing the same thing already seen before, even, but with small variation.

Fun-size candy bars are fun for this reason. They offer a different way of acquiring, holding, and tasting familiar candy-bar products. They are not as exclusively seasonal as they once were, but it’s still harder (and less culturally acceptable) to have them on hand all the time. Acquiring a large quantity of them, as kids do on Halloween, allows sampling multiple treats in one session of modest gluttony. While still wrapped, they can be contained held or put in the pocket—a secret little treat that’s easy to carry.

But most of all, fun-size candy offers a different experience of recognizable flavors, textures, brand names, and packagings. It affords the mouthfeel of an entire candy all at once. It changes the proportions of chocolate, peanuts, and nougat in a Snickers, or of milk chocolate and crisped rice in a Krackel. It offers the new with the familiar.

The novelty of smallness also explains the cognitive dissonance of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup singles. Despite being among the best Halloween candy haul, they are also weirdly disappointing. This is because the single cup is the same as the normal package, but halved. The tiny, individually wrapped cups, on the other hand, are fun again, but they are too small to make for effective Halloween booty.

Handing out full-size bars cheats Halloween guests out of this specific experience of fun, replacing it with the one they already know. Of course, it’s true that finding the house that gives out the full-size bars is fun in a different way. Being that house is also fun. But not gastronomically. Quickly, the pride of being the best house on the block gives way to shame, and the excitement of having the best haul buckles into boredom. When kids return home with the big Snickers or 3 Musketeers, what then? Who cares. They’ve done all this before.

In its pagan origins, Halloween is a day when the ordinary world collides with the world of the spirits, during which both are acknowledged, if only temporarily. To infect it with the confectionery trappings of ordinary life is to spoil the day’s purpose. If you’ve provisioned your basket this year with indulgent, full-size bars, it’s not too late to turn back. Return them to the pantry. Save them for lunches or afternoon snacks. Get some fun-size bars, and help your neighborhood find a tiny novelty in a sea of the familiar.

—Ian Bogost is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the Director of the Program in Film & Media Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

Personally, if you can pull it off, I like the big bar idea.


Halloween’s dilemma: Candy vs. healthful treats
OCT. 31, 2011 

Dollars to doughnuts, the ghosts and goblins and Angry Birds who show up at your door Monday night will not have their little hearts set on baby carrots or celery sticks.

And statistics show — surprise! — that most won’t have to settle for them either. Candy flies off the shelves at Halloween — about 600 million pounds of it every season, including roughly 90 million pounds of chocolate, according to market researchers at Nielsen Co. The total bill for all these treats will run to $2.3 billion this year, the National Confectioners Assn. estimates.

But with the specter of childhood obesity haunting the land, well-meaning adults face a ghastly dilemma: Is it possible to offer a responsible treat without coming off as an ogre?

Because deciding what treats to hand out on Halloween can be downright tricky, we sought guidance from an array of experts in nutrition, pediatrics and dental health to see how they’re planning to cope. Here’s what they had to say:

Offer “good-for-you” goodies instead of candy. That’s the M.O. favored by Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C.

An outspoken advocate of science-based nutrition, Jacobson won the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s CDC Foundation Hero Award in 2010. But on the holiday he refers to as “Junk Food Day,” he knows he’s not considered a hero by neighborhood kids. After all, when they’re out collecting “garbage,” as he puts it, he tries to up the healthfulness of their haul by handing out raisins. “I suspect they eat their candy bars before they eat their raisins, but they don’t throw them back,” he says.

Children will meet a similar fate at the home of Dr. Janet Silverstein, chief of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where they’ll get to choose from a basket of apples, bananas and packages of dried fruit. “I tried toothbrushes before,” she says, “but that didn’t go over too well. I’m not sure the fruit basket goes over very well either, of course.” But it is quite successful in one way: “It keeps the 14-year-olds from coming.”

Forget about food altogether. Up the coast in Augusta, Maine, Dr. Jonathan Shenkin will be eschewing candy as well. Instead, the pediatric dentist will be offering stickers, toothbrushes and sugar-free gum.

In his experience, children “go wild” for stickers, at least until they hit first or second grade. After that, not so much. Sugar-free gum may not be older kids’ ideal Halloween treat either, he acknowledges, but “hey, they’re knocking at a dentist’s door.” And parents, at least, like the toothbrushes.

Sugar-free gum reduces the risk of tooth decay, Shenkin says, because it increases saliva flow. Indeed, studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after eating — especially if it’s sweetened with xylitol — reduces cavities and plaque by up to 60%.

From a dental health perspective, Shenkin says that sugar-free products are “the way to go.” But on the off chance that your munchkins collect some sugary swag, he stresses that they should brush their teeth with a fluoride toothpaste immediately after they eat it. And they should eat it right after a meal.

“Sugar between meals is worse than the same quantity as dessert,” he says, “because every time we consume sugar, the bacteria in our mouth digest it and produce acids which cause cavities.” He also advises that chocolate is better than stickier candies that “sit on teeth for extended periods of time” and are hard to remove even with a toothbrush. But even chocolate “can still cause cavities,” he says.

By the way, if you’re thinking that raisins and dried fruit are sticky too, you’re right. And that does make them a threat for tooth decay. Still, Shenkin prefers them over sticky candies. And they also have an advantage over fresh fruits: Because they’re packaged, parents don’t have to worry so much about tampering.

Hand out just a little candy. By giving small pieces of candy, and just one to a customer, nutrition guru Susan Roberts hopes to provide “a natural brake in the system.” And if every household did the same, kids would “have to walk a good long way to accumulate a lot,” says the director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Human Nutrition Research Laboratory on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.

Of course, some of her neighbors may belong to the bigger-is-better school of Halloween thought, and at times, she says, “my kid has come home with what I felt was too much candy.” Then she instituted “parent-share rules.” Also — unbeknown to her daughter — “some of it disappeared overnight.”

Conduct an experiment. Like the gleeful trick-or-treaters who troop up to his door, researcher James Hill sees Halloween as a golden opportunity. For the kids it’s a chance to get their little mitts on as much candy as they can, but for him it’s a chance to see what it would take to entice them to forgo the sweet stuff.

Hill is the executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, which has developed a list of 28 healthier-than-candy Halloween hand-out options. Hill plans to put the eight cheapest ones to the test. These range from Halloween “tattoos” at 2 cents apiece to glow-in-the-dark bouncy balls that cost 16 cents each. Small-sized candy bars will also be available, and he’ll “see how many kids go for candy and how many for alternatives.”

Go into denial. “I kind of wish the holiday would just go away,” says Gary Taubes, author of “Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It” and, most recently, a widely read piece about the evils of sugar and its role in causing chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer. He has signed on as a spokesman for the first annual Sugar Addiction Awareness Day on Oct. 30, which (among other priorities) has set the lofty goal of making Halloween a sugar-free holiday.

But sugary candies will get handed out at his Bay Area home nonetheless. “My wife takes it upon herself to save the children in our neighborhood from my Grinch-who-stole-Halloween characteristics,” he confesses.

And if Taubes had his druthers, what sort of treats would he hand out? “Maybe chocolate with as low a sugar content as the kids would tolerate — although I guess if they took one bite and threw the rest out, that wouldn’t be so bad, would it?”

Chill out — it’s only once a year. Candy crams a lot of calories into a small space, and most of the time Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University in University Park, encourages people to eat foods that do just the opposite. But on Halloween, when she greets 600 or so trick-or-treaters, she lets them reach into a giant mixing bowl and pull out — yes! — the fun-sized candy of their choice.

“It’s a treat, OK?” Rolls says. It’s up to parents to figure out how to handle the candy that kids bring home, she says, but she recommends that they don’t get too uptight about it. Research shows that restricting treats too much only makes them seem more special, feeding kids’ desire all the more.

Michael Pollan will be stepping out of character too. In such books as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” the Berkeley professor advises readers to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Still, he says, “our Halloween candy is the usual crap, on the theory that it’s a special occasion. Festal eating once a year — what’s the big deal?”

As a kid, Pollan recalls, he “kept a careful map year to year, crossing out the houses where they gave you an apple or a view of their new kitties — not a good use of precious trick-or-treating time.”


Frumpy Middle-aged Mom: It’s my annual Halloween dilemma
By Marla Jo Fisher
Orange County Register, October 27, 2021

It’s Halloween and that means my annual agonizing over whether or not to buy candy for trick-or-treaters. I live in one of those pleasant neighborhoods of small tract homes that used to get zillions of kids — many from less safe areas — and it was always fun, if exhausting, to fill their orders.

See, I would try to watch TV on the living room couch, which is about 15 feet from the front door. I’d just sit down to watch some show about Halloween baking, and I’d hear a knock on the door and a cute chorus of “Trick or Treat!” So I’d have to get up, pause the TV and go to the door, grab the plastic pumpkin that contained the candy, and pass it out, commenting on the many cute lions and ninja turtles and dragons on my stoop.

I always felt a little sad when I saw kids with pillowcases and no costumes, because I knew their families simply didn’t have money for costumes, so I always gave them a little extra candy. What’s a little diabetes among friends, right?

“But, Marla,” you’re thinking to yourself right now. “What about those annoying teenagers? They show up at my door with no costume and a pillowcase and just expect me to give them candy. That’s just obnoxious.”

And here’s what I have to say: Stop being a Grinch. OK, OK, so the Grinch comes at Christmas, but if he were at Halloween, he’d be you. Now that I’ve gone through that phase with my teenagers, I know stuff. Like, those kids really want to wear costumes, but they’re afraid their friends will make fun of them for acting like babies. They still want to trick-or-treat because it’s a treasured part of their childhoods, and they’re still half children. But they can’t bring a cute little jack o’lantern holder (see above.) So they grab a pillowcase, because that’s the de rigeur container, and head out. Be nice to them. They’re still kids at heart.

Bit by bit, I’ve seen the trick-or-treating die off at my house, even when we decorate with lights. On the last Halloween before COVID, I bought bags of candy, as usual, and hardly gave any out. I wasn’t even tired from jumping up from the couch at the end of the night.

I’m guessing that kids are just doing other things now — going to parties or those “trunk or treat” events in parking lots that don’t even sound like the slightest fun. I presume parents have been scared by the endless bad press about letting kids go to stranger’s houses, although my parents used to let me go trick-or-treating for UNICEF by myself all through the neighborhood when I was a kid.

Nowadays I can almost see an imaginary leash between the kids on the porch and the parents on the sidewalk, ready to reel the kid in if I look even slightly shady when I come to the door.

Obviously, last year with COVID, I didn’t even bother to get any candy. And, guess what? I didn’t gain any weight. Even though I make it a firm rule to never buy candy I like to eat, somehow just looking at it in the bag was enough to pack on a few pounds a night.

My kids had a routine when they were small. They would go out and hit up the neighborhood in their overpriced costumes, which were like a wedding dress they only wore once for two hours. Then they’d come home, spread all their candy on my hardwood floor, separate and categorize it, and count it to compare who got the most. I kept a sharp eye on this to see how much real chocolate was there.

Because I knew that the kids would forget all about the candy after a day, then I could swoop in and claim all the real chocolate bars for myself. I’d put them in the freezer, hidden inside a broccoli box, and sneak it out when needed for medicinal purposes. Curly Girl doesn’t like Reese’s cups, so those were always mine from the beginning.

We live in one of those neighborhoods with disposable income, so they always collected a fair number of full-sized chocolate bars.

In September, I always took the kids up to that huge Halloween Club warehouse outlet off the Santa Ana (I-5) freeway and spent my entire paycheck on their outfits. They would let you try them on there, as long as you were supervised by an employee, so we’d usually head up there after church and plan to spend the entire afternoon. I didn’t mind spending the money, because I knew it was only temporary. And, sure enough, now that they’re in their 20s, they have no interest in having me buy them Halloween costumes. Surprise, surprise. Which is good, because that Halloween Club store closed last year.

I’m still wavering about whether to buy candy or not. 



Halloween cancelled? 52% won’t give trick-or-treaters candy this year — many blame inflation
By Chris Melore
Study Finds, October 20, 2022

As kids get ready for another Halloween night of costumes, candy, and fun memories, many adults say they simply don’t have the money to celebrate this year. In a poll of 1,000 Americans, a staggering 52 percent say they won’t be handing out Halloween candy to young trick-or-treaters.

Out of these Americans, one in four blame inflation for spoiling this year’s festivities (24%). That shouldn’t come as much of a Halloween shocker, since inflation rose to a 40-year high earlier in 2022.

Previous studies have found that three in four Americans feel inflation interfered with their 2022 financial goals. Six in 10 small businesses also fear that the ongoing cost of living crisis will ruin them.

Another 23 percent said they didn’t celebrate Halloween, leading them to not hand out candy. Meanwhile, just 12 percent say health and safety concerns related to the pandemic are still keeping them from avoiding trick-or-treaters this year.

For those still planning to hand out candy this year (48%), the average American buys two bags of candy and spends around $23 on the treats. Despite buying candy to give to costumed kids, one in three admit they eat a lot of it themselves.


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One thought on “Culinary no-no #751 -The Trick or Treat edition

  1. Pingback: Culinary no-no #752 | This Just In… From Franklin, WI

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