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Candy Crime

My mother used to play a cruel trick on us when we were young. When we made our weekly trek into town to buy food at the health food shop she’d say “Okay, you can have one sweety each.” The words barely left her lips before the four of us beelined for the confectionary display, tripping over each other, snarling and snapping like a pack of tiny wolves. Wherein began the most concentrated form of deliberation I have ever known. Hopping from foot to foot, eyes screwed tight, small brains working feverishly, trying to figure out which of the health food sweets actually bore the closest resemblance to real sweets. The pickings were slim — seedy sesame bars, gummy bears or rancid black licorice — it was enough to break even the toughest and most decisively minded child.

That wasn’t, however, the worst of her crimes. Sometimes, with a beckoning smile, she’d hold out some brown squares of what looked like chocolate. “Is this really chocolate?” I asked. “Of course” she said. Most children worth their salt, if you approach them with quote, unquote ‘healthy sweets’ will stand up and say in a loud clear voice, “Bugger Off, you old bag” but we were desperate. Greed overtook caution and we snatched the brown bits out of her hands and stuffed them down. For a fraction of a moment, everything was bliss, then creeping horror, the taste invaded your nose and mouth, musty, foul, like licking a tree trunk. It wasn’t sweet chocolate, but the foul pretender, Prince of thieves, CAROB!! While we spat and retched my mother would say, “Why are you being so silly, it tastes just like chocolate” and laugh and laugh.

Is it any wonder I was driven to candy crime?

It started with Aero Bars — sweet, popping gently on the tongue, seductive Areo bars — I got hooked hard, and soon my young life became about how to get sweets, where to get sweets and how many sweets could I get. And for that I needed money. When you’re small, your economic prospects are few. You really only have two options, you can work or you can steal. Since working involves work, something I am still categorically opposed to, stealing seemed like a reasonable alternative. Having been tricked into eating carob, I figured my mother owed me. And there, flopped open, was her purse. In went the hand, out came the money and off I went to buy Aero bars. It was that simple. Or was it?

Having lived with the guilt for 25 years, I can honestly say deprivation is not the answer, nor, obviously, is subterfuge. Once I moved out of the country, I made it my business to eat as much candy as possible to make up for those years of sweet starvation. Many cavities and a few too extra pounds later, I have learned some things about candy and kids. The sin is greater than the sinner. My son can’t even speak English yet, but he knows sweets when he sees them. Having literally wrestled chocolate out of his hands, I have some sympathy for my poor, well intentioned mother with her vile carob.

When you are a child, sweets are God. Better than food, almost better than toys, better than money. In fact money is simply a means to get more sweets. Sweets can turn the most angelic golden aired little angel into a whining, thieving, maniacal, shrieking sugar junkie, who will do anything for another fix. Most first brushes with the law stem directly from candy. Children are not stupid. Well, okay they’re a little stupid, but what they lack in foresight and intellectual vigor, they make up for in cunning. Just try to steal candy from a baby, and see how far you get. What you will end up with is babies that steal candy. More than 70 percent of all of the crimes committed in the US are theft related and stealing candy is usually the first step on the long path leading to the big house.

As a parent, your options are few and feeble. You are fighting a losing battle, confectionary is a multi-billion pound industry, and your pathetic voice is lost in the roar of marketing. How can you ever hope to compete? Here is where the dreadful bargaining begins — when and how many sweets will you (parental figure) let them eat? Let them gorge into comas, or hide their goodies and dole them out piece by precious piece — what’s fair and reasonable? If you allow your children to control their own confectionary intake, will you end up with some Goodyear blimps, or will the little dears, self-medicate and bottom out. Children feel powerful and in control when you turn certain responsibilities over to them. So don’t just throw up your hands and give in. Take a more reasoned approach and say “Your candy is yours, and you can eat it as you wish. I trust that you’ll manage to eat it without making yourself sick.” Good luck all-day sucker.

If you confiscate their sweets like a vengeful prison guard, and ration it out, one painful piece at a time, be prepared for more begging and whining than it’s humanly possible to withstand. Also realise the minute they are out of direct sight, they will beg borrow or steal candy from all their nasty little friends.

And sometimes, sweets, those most innocent of vices, are merely a set of training wheels on the road to real, far more troubling, vices.

Candy cigarettes, those seemingly innocuous treats children buy at the local shop, aren’t simply cute psuedo-adult props, they are actually marketing devices promoted by the tobacco firms to entice children to smoke. New research based on hitherto secret tobacco company documents have demonstrated that the makers of candy cigarettes and tobacco companies are in cahoots, conspiring to make sure children enjoy the sweets that will lead to later real tobacco habits.

Findings published in the British Medical Journal issue devoted to tobacco and health showed cigarette manufacturers allowed the makers of candy cigarettes to mimic their packaging and use their brand names so packs of the candy versions were nearly indistinguishable from real ones. Despite research studies showing that children who pretended to smoke candy cigarettes were twice as likely to smoke, manufacturers maintained their products were a harmless part of growing up. Good clean fun! Although candy cigarettes are banned in many countries, efforts for similar action in the United States have been repeatedly thwarted by makers of candy cigarettes and those with vested interests in tobacco. The researchers also uncovered evidence showing a study funded by two leading U.S. candy cigarette makers (World Candies and New England Confectionery) were suppressed. If only there was a tiny little insider to break the sordid situation wide open.

Stealing, smoking and yes, even ungodly sex?! Yes, Virginia ungodly sex, brought to you, courtesy of Star Wars, the marketing concept. When Stars Wars (Episode 1) flooded stores with marketing tie-ins to the film, some were better thought out than others. Among the more ill-conceived was the infamous JarJar Binks toy which contained a 10 inch push-up tongue made of strawberry flavored candy. The tongue bore a somewhat uncanny resemblance to another male organ. Big, hard and flushed a suggestively red color, children wrapped their mouths around this toothsome treat and parents, quite naturally, went ballistic. One such incident was reported thusly… “One mother brought the toy home for her 3 year old son. She had no idea what it was, because the demon’s mouth was closed when she purchased it. She turned her head for an instant and when she looked back and saw her boy sucking on the sex tongue, she fainted dead on the spot. It took a team of four paramedics to bring her round. The boy was punished, and the candy destroyed.”

One can only imagine the poor child’s confusion.

Even chocolate, dear, sweet chocolate is not without sin. Not only is it a pathway to endorphin bliss, paving the way, for a lifetime of raving, pill popping candy kids debauchery, no far worse. If you’re looking for real sin, think money and greed. The one-two punch of almost every crime committed. In 2001 U.S. chocolate consumption was some 3.1 billion pounds in weight, with estimated retail sales of £9 Billion. Sales for 2002 were up to about £17 billion.

Chocolate is not lily white as recent investigations into child slavery in the cocoa industry have proven. The six largest cocoa producing countries are the Ivory Coast (where 43% of cocoa beans originate) Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, and Cameroon. In Ghana, cocoa accounts for 40% of total export revenues, and two million farmers are employed in cocoa production. These are also some of the poorest countries in the world. In 1998, an investigation by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) uncovered a reemergence of child slavery in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast. Two years later, a report by the US State Department concluded that in recent years approximately 15,000 children aged 9 to 12 have been sold into forced labor on cotton, coffee and cocoa plantations in the north of the country. An extensive study of 1,500 farms in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon undertaken by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) indicated that 284,000 children are currently working on cocoa farms. After a string of media exposes and the threat of government action jeopardized their image, the chocolate industry finally stopped denying responsibility for the problems in West Africa, and said it would take steps to eliminate child slavery. M&M / Mars (one of the largest chocolate corporations in the world worth a combined £20 billion) is perhaps somewhat complicit in this situation. Despite the fact that the US chocolate industry (including M&M / Mars) have pledged to work towards ending child slavery by 2005, M&M / Mars has so far refused to sell Fair Trade chocolate, effectively rendering their stated intent null and void. So far it’s business as usual.

Suddenly my deeply ingrained guilt about pinching pennies from my mother, seem, well, small change. Carob is also not so looking so bad, even if it still tastes foul. Better still, I’m off to buy some yummy organic fairly traded luxury creamy melt-in-your-mouth chocolate.

Long live cavities!

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