From where I stand, Halloween ain’t what it used to be.
And no, I’m not talking about the rise of “stranger danger” phobia that drove kids away from neighborhoods and towards the malls, where retailers encourage a pallid, plastic simulacrum of the old ritual, tasteless as candy corn. Best as I can tell, Wallingford, at least, is past that: the streets have been filled with roving packs of vampires and robots these past few years.
No, there are two things that have made me come to dread the holiday I used to enjoy so much:
- Lots of kids have food allergies
- Even if they could eat it, most of the candy kind of sucks
[Now, regarding #1, before you start scrolling down to leave a comment about how you ate whatever you wanted when you were growing up and here's this anecdote about this person you know that thinks she has food allergies but you think she just wants attention, STFU.
I've stayed up with my son when he couldn't sleep for days because of his reflux, I've seen his crazy reactions to particular foods, and I know first hand that all that went away when we changed his diet. I personally know kids that have gone from deep in the autism spectrum to happy healthy by adjusting their diet. I'm sure there are people out there that "think they have it but don't", but that doesn't invalidate that there are many, many kids who can't eat what you ate when you were growing up. There are more of them today then there used to be: emergency room visits due to food allergies more than doubled from 2001 to 2006. I don't know why, I have my suspicions, but that's a conversation for another day.]
So, my first question is, if you’re a kid who can’t eat most of what gets handed out at the doors on Halloween, like my son and a dozen others I know in the neighborhood, what do you do?
But my second question is this: why would anyone eat that crap? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a health nut, I love a good chocolate bar at least as much as the next guy, but really people, have you tasted what they’re passing off as chocolate these days?
The Snickers bars, $100,000 bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups sold in big bags at end caps of QFC are not the same bars you ate when you were growing up.
Hershey’s, Nestle’s, Mars: they’ve all been gradually degrading their ingredients. A small example: In 2008, Hershey’s stopped putting cocoa butter in a number of their candy bars. They can’t legally call them “chocolate” anymore!
I could list ingredients here and raise questions about what that “TBHQ” in Reese’s cups are (hint: “butane”), but I shouldn’t need to. Pick up a 3 Musketeers bar. Put it in your mouth. It tastes chokingly sweet, but good? Come on.
Maybe you’ve got no beef with Halloween. Your kids collect some candy, they enjoy it, you enjoy it. If so, read no further, forget I ever mentioned it.
But for me, I see increasing numbers of kids left out of the Halloween ritual, and those who do participate collecting bags of waxy garbage that’s often thrown away. So what’s to be done?
I happen to have some suggestions.
First, why not give out something besides candy? Like what? Here are some ideas:
- 250 super balls for $14
- 1,000 Legos for $40
- 100+ Mexican jumping beans for $25 [OK, maybe this one is a bad idea]
Second, yes, I’m going to do it. I’m going to touch the third rail of trick-or-treating: make something! Candied apples. Rice krispie treats. Home made marshmallows.
OMG, I’m endangering children, they’re going to be poisoned, how could you let a child take candy from a stranger?!
We all make our own decisions, but my take is that a) the stories about poison and razor blades in candy are mostly urban legend and b) the few actual cases, when taken in the context of the 41 million kids that trick-or-treat, are negligible. Look at the numbers: 550 people die every year from “shopping on Black Friday”. Eating hot dogs kill 70 children every year. High school football is responsible for 20 deaths per year. Roller coasters kill six children per year. How many kids do you think die from poison candy or razor blades every year? Less than one.
You do what you want, I feel comfortable letting my kid do all of those things*, and that includes “eating home-made food from my neighbors”. Not only do I think it’s safe, I think it’s important: I don’t want to instill in him the belief that his neighbors are people to be feared and mistrusted. There’s real, community fracturing harm in that.
But I know that most of the houses we would visit this Halloween won’t be on this bandwagon, so what’s the point in trick-or-treating? What should I tell my boy, who doesn’t eat wheat, corn, eggs, soy or dairy?
Here’s my plan: this year, we’re going to skip the collection phase and just give something away. Something home made and allergy-friendly, like honey candy from our backyard bee hives. Our house isn’t on a high traffic trick-or-treat route, so we’ll probably set up a stand somewhere more popular. If you’re not comfortable letting your child take something from my child, that’s OK. Stop by and say hi, anyway.
Better yet, say “boo!”
* Except shop on Black Friday.