Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sweet thing.

Today's New York Times food section has an article about Samira Kawash, the author of the Candy Professor blog. Dr. Kawash, a former Rutgers professor, started Candy Professor after becoming obsessed with candy - the history, the imagery, the production process, and America's complicated relationship with all things sweet.

Candy Professor focuses rather narrowly on American candy, and Dr. Kawash is particularly mesmerized by the evolution of the idea of candy, particularly the heyday of 'scientific cookery' in the 50s, which spawned some awesome ideas as sugar being the ideal diet food:




The candy debate rears its head again after the recent implementation of taxes on candy in Washington State. But, as it turns out, it's harder to figure out what is candy and what isn't than you may think. Granola bars? Well, since you can buy them stuffed with M&Ms and dunked in chocolate (or, the coyly named 'chocolatey coating') why aren't they candy? Washington State dealt with it by publishing an exhaustive list of what they consider candy and therefore taxable under the new regulation, which you can find here. Washington State has decided that stuff made with flour is exempt, which a lot of candy bars are, but stuff like Belly Timber, an absolutely fabulous-sounding concoction made with dates, soy flour, and peanut butter, is.

Candy Professor is funny and breezy, but Kawash does delve into some of the weird psychological underpinnings of the idea of candy, from the old razor-blades-in-the-chocolate Halloween tropes to scare campaigns against "candy drugs" like Strawberry Kwik, a candy-flavored meth product that was allegedly luring high schoolers into its sweetly chemical clutches. Strawberry Kiwk prompted the drafting of legislation criminalizing the act of manufacturing drugs to make them more appealing to minors. The only minor hitch was that Strawberry Kwik didn't ever exist, and no one ever found anything approximating candy-flavored or scented meth.


Of course, the debate rages on, with products like flavored cigarettes from Camel and the latest, a caffeinated, alcoholic, sugary carbonated beverage called Four Loko that is being blamed for cases of severe alcohol poisoning among the newly-legal set - and I can totally understand the appeal, since I used to drink a particularly noxious caffeinated, carbonated, orange-flavored drink called Sparks that tasted like a melted orange SweeTart and had to be drunk ice-cold, because it tasted so awful otherwise (and which, I would argue, is not any different than pounding a Red Bull and vodka). Of course, now that my worry is less the vexing how-do-I-stay-awake-late-into-the-night conundrum facing the kids in the NYT's article and more the God-I-hope-I-don't-nod-off-before-finishing-one-chapter-of-my-book, I can't imagine wanting to drink something so awful, sort of like how no one over the age of 23 should ever consider purchasing an Axe product.

But anyhow, getting back to candy, Candy Professor fills me with nostalgia for the candy shops of my childhood, having grown up in a country known both for its chocolate and its fascism. German candy shops are pretty epic, and on the first day of school every year, you will see adorable rosy-cheeked blonde cherubs tromping off to school with giant, three foot long cardboard cones stuffed full of sweets and chocolate and tied at the top with string. It's a German tradition, the idea apparently being that children will make friends faster if they go to school armed with sugary ammunition, and the resulting unloading and trading of the loot forces them to interact with each other.

Candy shops there are more like American candy shops of the 50s and earlier (and some throwbacks, particularly stores like excellent Sugar Cube in Alexandria), with bins of loose candy. Armed with tongs, you stuffed clear plastic cones with the various types of candy (peach rings, gummy strawberries, gummy frogs, mint drops, gummy bears, licorice wheels, both strawberry and raspberry, sour straws, sugar coated jelly fruit, citrus slices, white marshmallow mice, gumballs wrapped in foil patterned to look like soccer balls) which are sold by weight. My mom would buy the more expensive chocolate, but it was pretty clear from the price and the division of the candy that the bulk candy was meant for kids - both cheaper and more potent, the most sugar for your Deutschmark.

Candy Professor is more fascinating, particularly when Kawash gets into stickier sociopolitical and economic issues surrounding candy and the weird connection between candy, medicine, and science during various nutritional fads in America.

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