I am nostalgic for the Halloween of my childhood, specifically the 1960s and 1970s. I was lucky enough to grow up in an era when the worse thing that could possibly happen to you when you were trick-or-treating was that someone would drop an apple in your pillowcase. We weren’t remotely afraid that someone would slip a razor blade into it to slice our mouth open (we were NOT going to eat that apple, anyways,) but we were annoyed that someone would give us a piece of fruit instead of a Snickers or Charleston Chew (which we would put right into the freezer so we could crack it into crispy, chewy bite-size pieces, then mail out the wrappers in an envelope to enter and win a pony.
I pause here to ask two crucial questions – did anyone reading this ever know a kid who got a razor blade in an apple? And did anyone ever hear of a child winning a pony by sending in those Charleston Chew wrappers?
My siblings and I celebrated Halloween completely unsupervised, and it was euphoric. We used pillowcases for trick-or-treating because they were sturdy and held the greatest volume of candy, and we went from one neighborhood to another at a dead run, crunching brown leaves beneath our feet, competing with hundreds of other costumed, shrieking children. I don’t ever remember one bad Halloween experience, unless you count sitting down with my siblings at the end of the night and trading out candies you didn’t like for ones you did. Somehow, my brother, John, always ended up with more than the rest of us at the end of the tradeoffs, and why we ever negotiated with him for more Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, year after year, I will never understand . . .
And then there was the total lack of supervision over how much candy we ate and when. I have to admit, each of us collected up at least 10 pounds of candy, and it never, ever lasted more than a week. I remember visiting a friend of mine, Lori Alley, just before Christmas, and on her dresser was a plastic pumpkin (I was horrified she did not use a pillowcase) and in it was a small pile of candy. Upon inquiry, Lori responded it was what was left from Halloween. WHAT WAS LEFT FROM HALLOWEEN? Impossible! In my house we stayed up late into the night eating candy in bed for days afterwards, and stuffed five or six pieces into our lunch bags, and ate it for breakfast . . . and when we started to get low on our favorites, we’d search high and low for someone else’s bag to raid (we all found some rather clever hiding places for our stashes.)
I watch the sterile Halloween pageantry of today, with fewer and fewer trick-or-treaters and heavy-duty supervision and feel sorry that modern children will never experience the hedonism and wild abandon with which we attacked our second favorite holiday (Christmas was always number one as the “take” was higher, and despite smaller quantities of candy, homemade pierogies on Christmas Eve more than made up for it.)
Today I received an email from a dietitian named Gloria Tsang, author of a book Go UnDiet: 50 Small Actions for Lasting Weight Loss and founder of nutrition network HealthCastle.com. She writes that, “choosing the right candy can reduce the health impact of your kid's trick-or-treat haul. ‘With big differences in calories, sugar, and quality of ingredients used, it's just not true that all Halloween candy is the same,’ Gloria says. ‘None of them are exactly good for you, but we've done some close analysis of common competitors to see which options are best from a nutrition perspective.’”
I sat back and closed my eyes, thinking about how blissful life was in the ‘60s when we never once thought about polyglycerol polyricinoleate as being a problem; our only worry was that darn apple taking up perfectly good space in our pillowcase. And yet, today, as I approach 51, I also approach my food with concern; MSG gives me days of uncontrollable heart palpitations, and if the words hydrogenated or hydrolyzed appear on a wrapper, I take a moment to consider if I really want to risk the heart disease . . . sigh . . . the realities of being an adult are harsh, but at least I have my precious childhood Halloween memories.
For those who are consumed by the realities of this generation, I am including Gloria Tsang’s breakdown of the best and the worst of Halloween candies. And brace yourself, you lovers of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. There is no sugar coating when Tsang disses the Queen of Halloween candies. I suppose I will have to visit her website to see what she has to say about Charleston Chews.
- PayDay beats Reese Peanut Butter Cups: Reese Cups contain polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR), a commercial emulsifier used to reduce cocoa butter. Plus, PayDay is the only candy to list peanuts, not sugar, as the first ingredient.
- Kit Kat beats Twix: They're similar in calories and sugar (and both include PGPR), but Twix’s ingredient list is surprisingly long. Even more surprising? Twix is marketed as a biscuit topped with caramel and chocolate, but there’s no caramel on the ingredient list.
- M&Ms beat Skittles: Both contestants in this classic Halloween showdown contain artificial colorings and wax. M&Ms at least offer a tiny amount of calcium and protein, and less sugar.
- Baby Ruth beats Snickers: There's no real winner here – Snickers has partially hydrogenated oil, and Baby Ruth has high-fructose corn syrup and the preservative TBHQ. Snickers loses out simply because the portion is larger, leaving room for more calories.
- Mounds beats Almond Joy: Mounds has a shorter ingredient list, and skips the partially hydrogenated oil found in Almond Joy.
- 3 Musketeers beats Hershey Milk Chocolate: The Hershey bar has that sneaky PGPR, while 3 Musketeers was unique among the candies surveyed in actually including real cocoa powder.
- Whoppers beat Milk Duds: Milk Duds will stick to your (or your kid's) teeth, so they're a no-no for anyone with dental issues. Plus, the smaller Whoppers serving saves some calories.