Review: Candy: A Secret History of Food

Candy: A Secret History of Food
Candy: A Secret History of Food by Samira Kawash
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The perfect topic for the Halloween season. Everything about the beginning of this book is appealing, from the cover to the first anecdotes in the introduction. Candy. Is it a food? Is it evil? Why do we love it so much and why is our culture ashamed of it? Why do I, a vegetarian gardener food co-op board member hiker all-around healthy person also eat so much candy? Kawash delves into the history of candy, candy making, eating, and advertising in America in an engaging and informative way. I’m only reading it so slowly because the print is small and the lines are too close together and my bifocals clearly need replacing.

I took a little break in the middle of this book to devour some YA. It didn’t really take a month to read & that should not be a poor reflection on Kawash or her book. Just saying.

So, I have a job I love that I feel 100% good about. Librarianship is a force for good in the world. Period. What is it like to have a job that is less easy to defend: Say, a person who makes flavor additives that make people eat more of something that is bad for them? Or someone who creates advertising campaigns for candies that claim to be healthful but are not? Or someone who works in a lab devising synthetic alternatives to food ingredients which may or may not be okay for people to consume over the long haul?

Apparently, ever since the turn of last century, with the industrialization of candy production, there have been rafts of people whose job it is to convince us to eat more candy. To be fair, there was a time when food scientists truly believed that a calorie was a calorie and, therefore, candy could be an excellent energy source. It is only with evolving knowledge of what makes good nutrition that we have learned to think differently. So much of what we accept as absolute fact (eating whole grains is better; too much food processing removes the nutrients we need; sugar is bad for your teeth) was utterly unknown 100 years ago. I was shocked (shocked!) to learn that most Americans did not brush their teeth daily until after WW2.
It is fascinating to see how much accepted wisdom and practice have changed and will surely change again.

Favorite bits: An investigation into the Halloween candy sabotage stories (razor blades in apples, etc.) that I grew up with finds that they are not true! Also, of especial interest to my family, the inspiration for the drinking song “Lily the Pink,” (which has been linked on youtube to Hermione Granger’s potions-brewing skills) was Lydia Pinkham, a savvy business woman who touted her highly alcoholic cure for “women’s complaints” in between recipes for home candy making.

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