“Trick or treat, smell my feet
give me something good to eat
if you don’t, I don’t care
I’ll pull down your underwear!”
For a kid, is there a better holiday than Halloween? It has the coolest premise of any of the annual celebrations: dress up, be mischievous, and get candy. Genius! Is that even legal? It was the “Purge” before the purge. Even as unsophisticated kids, we knew that we couldn’t prepare for Halloween carelessly. We decorated our houses and classrooms with cobwebs, spiders, witches and all things creepy and crawly. On television, it was endless entertainment. “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” to “Poltergeist” to the Universal Monster classics kept us glued to the couch for an entire month. Our costumes had to be perfect, down to the last detail. You needed to get to the store early, otherwise, the good costumes would be taken. If you wanted to be Michelangelo from the Ninja Turtles, you’d better be at the costume shop on September 30th. If you hesitated at all, you would be lucky if you could get Leonardo. Who wants to be Leonardo? I remember my mother trying to save money and buying costumes that were knockoffs of the mainstream originals. Arachna-Man, instead of Spider-Man, Owl-Man instead of Batman, or shape-shifting-truck-bot instead of Optimus Prime. No, way. I would have been the laughing stock of the fifth grade, setting up my middle school years for non-stop bullying. “Hey, there’s that kid who dressed up as ‘GI Steve.’ Get him!”
Today, everybody goes to the mall or some such nonsense for candy. Where’s the fun in that? I can’t imagine going to Macy’s for some Twix, or Victoria’s Secret for candy corn. Why wouldn’t you just go to See’s Candy? It is, literally, a candy store. I sense a pattern with many parents. They have fun, grow up, and take all the enjoyment out of things for their children; Halloween being no exception. I’m not sure why. Do they not want to walk? Are the streets too “hilly?” Sometimes, you need to break a sweat for that chocolatey goodness. Is it for safety? It was much more dangerous for us in the 70’s and 80’s than it is now. Every kid has a cell phone with trackers and a whistle, making it virtually impossible to get lost or kidnapped. We had to worry about maniacs putting razor blades in candy apples. Today’s parents worry about gluten and “offensive” costumes. I sound like a curmudgeonly old man barking about the “good old days.” But, they were good–very good.
When we were young, we went door-to-door like we were running for public office. Before we could say “smell my feet,” we’d get a handful of mini-snickers in our bags. This was also our first exposure to a vetting process. We’d tell other kids to visit or avoid certain houses, based on their payloads. “Don’t go to Mrs. Wingo’s house, she only gives out pennies.” “Dude, you have got to get to Mr. Taylor’s house! He’s giving out King Size Snickers! I don’t know how much he has left–book it!” A perilous night like All Hallow’s Eve is not all fun and games. We had to stay on the lookout for the dreaded “bag snatchers.” These were the jerks who ran past you and yanked your candy bag from your hands. Since they were usually older and faster, there was no hope of getting your stash back. You either had to start over or you’d go home empty handed, crying to mom. You’d end up with “pity candy,” usually in the form of stale butterscotch that’s been in your grandmother’s purse for seventy years. It was the best holiday, but not without risks.
At the end of a triumphant evening was the ceremonial “candy trade,” where we’d sit together and swap candy. It was a hustle from start to finish. Your goal was to get their best candy, without giving up yours. “I’ll give you a Mr. Goodbar for a Nestle Crunch.” If you had some King Size candy, you had real negotiating power. After a few hits of “Pixie Stix,” it became an intense reenactment of Glengarry Glen Ross. The parents would try to intervene with a candy-distribution-socialist idea, but we would have none of that. I worked hard for that loot. Matthew hit fewer houses than I did and I had a better costume. He wasn’t getting a finger on my Butterfinger. If Halloween fell on a Friday or Saturday, it would be the best night of the year, times two. After the candy stock exchange was completed, it was time for the scary movies. Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Chucky, and Michael Myers each supplied a night’s worth of boogeymen, guaranteed to give us nightmares.
Today, there is a Super-Boogeyman out there that makes all the rest look like Care Bears. It is singularly blamed for all of life’s misery, most specifically, obesity. It’s not a grotesque ghoul, hiding underneath your bed. We brought it into our homes by the pillowcase-full every year on Halloween, like the Trojan Horse. Did we let the Barbarians inside the gates? What have we done? Sugar, thou art a villain. Is sugar truly the bane of our existence?
In 2018, more and more people are having difficulty discerning between satire and literal narrative. With that in mind, I will say this next part literally: sugar is not exclusively responsible for obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Repeat the “not exclusively responsible” part again. Before you hunt me with torches and pitchforks, I will be clear…again: There’s a difference between controlling your sugar intake and scapegoating it for all the aforementioned problems. I advocate the former. The latter is a lazy tool of the media and creates a generation of orthorexics.
Orthorexia: an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy, a medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods in the belief that they are harmful.
Attributing a single-cause to any multi-factorial issue is a fallacy. If you’re asked why there is a lot of crime in a certain area, and your response is “nudity in movies,” you’re wrong. Likewise, obesity, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes are multi-factorial. They tried the single-cause fallacy in the 80’s with fat, later with all carbs, and now sugar. It’s an overly simplistic view and doesn’t solve the problem at-large. For the “lone gunman” theory to work, you’d have to prove that sugar is solely responsible for obesity and the other health issues and that no shots came from the grassy knoll. With any theory, it can be tested. Meaning, for it to hold true, it cannot be falsified–proved wrong. Spoiler alert: it was proven wrong in a landmark study, published in 2015. Surely, people are eating more sugar today than ever, right? They aren’t, and don’t call me Shirley.
Sugar intake has remained stable since the 1970’s. Since then, grain products have increased by 187 calories, fats and oils have increased by 185 calories, and sugars have increased by 38. Together, they contribute to an additional 400 calories per day. Physical activity has decreased by 140 calories in men and 124 calories in women. That’s 400 more calories coming in and approximately 130 less going out, which equals a surplus of 500 calories per day. That’s 3500 calories per week–a pound of body fat. That’s not considering neurochemistry, genetics, physiology, and economics. But, who cares about nuance and details?
Sugar intake should be reduced and controlled within a calorically-balanced diet with optimal protein. Context is important. A person who drinks three cans of soda a day is likely not eating blueberries and salmon. They’re presumably not exercising regularly. A good guess would be that they smoke and drink, also. It would be foolish to deny these additional influences on obesity, but it doesn’t fit the narrative. Is it a good idea to limit added sugar to 10% or below of total caloric intake? Yes. Are two licks of a Milky Way going to turn you into Jabba the Hut? No. The media don’t deal in subtlety. They work on emotion, divorcing you from rational thinking. One must be irrational to buy what they’re selling. Rational thinking is important. Still, I can guess what will happen after reading this. “I don’t care what he says, sugar makes you fat.” If that’s you, stay tuned for my next article: “How the Illuminati Took Over NASA.” I won’t pretend that I have the answers to obesity, food addiction, and heart disease. I do know where the problem isn’t. It’s not at the center of a tootsie roll.
This is about more than sugar. It is symbolic of a greater problem: the abdication of responsibility. The endless pursuit of a scapegoat for one’s problems is a dangerous problem in today’s culture. I should write a book called The Victim Diet, sell a billion copies, and retire. Every page is filled with foods, people, and companies you can blame for your high body fat. We are living in a paradox. At the same time, people are more educated than ever before in history and yet succumb to the dumbest ideas. Did you know there are more “Flat-Earthers” today than at any point in time? I run into people every day who bust their ass in the gym and work at a sustainable and healthy diet. When asked about the origins of their health problems, they don’t single out “sugar” or “nudity in movies.” They describe various disconnections they’ve made to a healthy lifestyle. They admit they eat too much. They eat the wrong things. They don’t exercise enough or correctly. They self-sabotage and don’t feel good about themselves. And you know what? These are the warriors that see real change. The victims disappear after a week.
Holidays are holidays for a reason. They are a deviation from everyday life. That’s why you shouldn’t light fireworks on random Tuesdays, like an ass. It’s a special part of New Year’s and Independence Day. If you dressed like a Cowboy at work today, people would think you’re insane, unless you’re a male stripper. Costumes are for Halloween. Santa Claus is for Christmas. Halloween is about dressing up, being prankish, getting frightened, and yes, eating sugar. We shouldn’t eat and behave like it’s a holiday all year long. If we did that, they wouldn’t be holidays anymore. The majority of the year should be filled with healthy food, normal clothes, and not egging someone’s house–unless they really deserved it.