It never ceases to amaze me how utterly maddening the search for Sugar Awareness can be. Just when you think you’ve found her, she dodges away licking a lollipop and singing “Got-cha!!”
I’ll give you a for instance. As we all know, Americans just experienced one of the most unabashed displays of sugar worship known to our calendar: Halloween. As I’ve mentioned before, despite the sugar onslaught I do love Halloween. In our house we devote an inordinate amount of time to Costume Development… for example my older daughter Greta decided to go as a medieval princess character from a favorite movie. Consequently a large portion of my October was spent communing with yards and yards of burgundy velveteen while Greta patiently sewed imitation pearls to the bodice, one… by… one.
Ilsa, meanwhile, announced early on that she wanted to go as “a pair of pants” with her good friend Brett; they would each be one leg of course. Therefore, when I wasn’t up to my eyeballs in gold brocade and eyelets, I was hemming an enormous wad of elastic into a pair of polka dotted trousers that would have fit Andre the Giant.
This is the fun part. The candy part, however, presents problems that can’t be solved by embroidery and clown shoes. Thus, about a week prior to the holiday, I was delighted to receive a flyer in Ilsa’s backpack advertising a “Candy Buy-Back and Fall Festival” at a nearby dentist’s office.
YES! I’d heard about Halloween candy buy-backs before and was soooooo curious: would anyone actually go? Would it be a dreary, grey event, kids lining up to reluctantly part with their hard-earned fructose and food coloring, before taking an oh-so-exciting tour of the dentistry facilities? How could you actually make getting rid of candy… fun?
Well, unfortunately, I’m here to tell you how: you give them more candy.
But let me back up. My friend Robin and I arrived with our corresponding kidlets to what looked surprisingly like a fun event: there were kids everywhere and loud, weird music playing (the theme from “Grease” was blasting from the DJ’s console when we arrived). There was a variety of low-tech games and activities such as a ring toss, mini-bowling and a spin art booth. At a craft table kids were coloring pictures of pumpkins and weaving friendship bracelets from embroidery floss. There was a booth for face-paint and temporary tattoos and every twenty minutes or so they’d announce a door prize, which varied from an iTunes gift card to a new haircut.
It was surprisingly festive. I was totally impressed. It was a beautiful fall day (unlike Halloween- upon which it rained) and it was working. Kids were showing up, turning in pounds of candy, and they were clearly having fun.
My eight year old was determined to do it ALL- Ilsa hit every table and played every game. When it was all over she left with face paint AND a tattoo AND a colored paper pumpkin AND a spin art masterpiece. The only thing she didn’t leave with was less candy.
In part that’s because of the truth of that old saying about bringing a horse to water. After explaining the principles of the Candy Buy Back to Ilsa the night before (one dollar for every pound), and weighing her candy (which amounted to juuuuuuuuust over one pound), she was of the considered opinion that it “just wasn’t worth it.”
I didn’t blame her. Because of the rain we had come home with substantially less candy that other years, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to talk her out of her entire haul… But because the buy-back candy was being donated to make care packages for U.S. military (I had a lot of ambivalence on that count as well- couldn’t we just send them a nice brisket, maybe?) I did manage to talk Ilsa into cheering some nice soldier somewhere with a single, solitary piece of candy. She picked a Dum Dum lollipop.
Do you know how small a Dum Dum is? It is pretty much the smallest piece of candy you can possibly find that isn’t a breath mint. So if you’ve ever supposed that going an entire year without sugar would henceforth transform one’s kids into sugar-shunning tofu-heads, let me correct your misapprehension.
(For our part, at home, we’ve instituted a two-piece-per week rule. At that rate I figure they’ll finish off their candy bags just in time to start buying candy with their social security money.)
Meanwhile Ilsa’s friend Brett- who has an allergy to nuts and consequently couldn’t have most of his Halloween candy anyway- turned in his pound and got a nice crisp dollar bill in return, as well as a dentist’s idea of a goody bag: toothbrush, flossers, and a two-minute timer.
But something was amiss… what was it? It took me a minute, but then I put my finger on it: grown-ups were wandering around eating enormous sugary donuts on paper plates. Robin directed my attention to the refreshment table by the DJ where electric-colored cupcakes, gigantic pastries, and gallons of apple cider rested: a sugar buffet of the highest order.
And then we noticed the prizes for the cute kids games: can you guess? Lollipops. In fact, all the kid games were being run by other kids, so whether you won or not they were pretty anxious to give all-comers a prize. Upshot: Ilsa donated to the soldiers one lollipop; by the end of the event she had accumulated five or six new ones.
Now I should qualify this by pointing out that, unlike the refreshment table, the lollipops being handed out did not contain fructose. They were clearly labeled as being sweetened with Xylitol, which is a ”tooth friendly” sugar alcohol. I’m not a fan of sugar alcohols because they have been known, to varying degrees, to cause gassiness and other gastric distress. But beyond that I’m just… skeptical. As No Sugar proponent and author David Gillespie rightly points out, after over a hundred years of ever-increasing sugar consumption, we’re only now just figuring out the health costs of fructose, so who knows what eventual side effects may be the result of such recent lab-borne ingredients as sugar alcohols?
But you know, we had a fun afternoon. Ilsa came away sad not to have won a door prize, but delighted to have a ghost popping out of a pumpkin painted on her cheek. When we first arrived the volunteers informed us they had already collected 27 pounds of candy, and by the time it was all over they said they had lost count. So for the low-low price of perhaps- what?- thirty-five dollars maybe, this dentists’ office had removed untold amounts of fructose from the diets of the kids running around. It’s actually a pretty noble thing, especially when you consider that, among many other things, more fructose= more business for dentists.
But then there’s that big, problematic refreshment table. I’m not suggesting they serve brussels sprouts and marinated kale mind you, but could they have had cheese and crackers and a big bowl of apples from a nearly orchard, maybe? Some of those cute little mini bottles of water? How hard would that be?
Not as hard as figuring out how to send a brisket to the troops, anyway, I can tell you that.