My almost 9-year-old trick-or-treats. She roams the neighborhood with friends. She collects candy. She eats a couple pieces. But after the fun is done, we have another Halloween tradition: Divide and conquer. Anything with artificial colors, fake sweeteners, trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup and chemical preservatives gets tossed. Right in the garbage. What’s left (and there’s not much) goes in a candy jar. And that’s often the last we see of it. Out of sight, out of mind, and all that.
When Tess was in preschool, and we visited just a few neighbors’ houses, we’d let her pick a piece, dump the rest and call it a night. Now she helps me sort and toss (or sort and save for gingerbread houses). We talk about why the ingredients are bad, how they affect our bodies, and how there are better (and tastier) alternatives anyway. We do the same with birthday-party goody bags.
Some people rely on Great Pumpkins and Halloween Fairies and Switch Witches and other magical creatures that come in the night and swap candy for toys. But I’d rather have Tess involved in the process than avoid the conversation by letting some nighttime sprite do the deed. I want her to understand why we make the food choices we do. I want her to know that we can participate in cultural experiences like Halloween or state fairs or amusement parks without the obligatory bad food. I want her to know that the tired phrase “everything in moderation” is meaningless in a world of ingredients that shouldn’t be consumed at all.
Kids can enjoy Halloween without stuffing their faces or making it all about the candy. Their childhood won’t be ruined. They won’t turn all binge-y and weird and scarf every multicolored sugar nugget the minute they get the chance. Really. They won’t. That’s a myth.
What if Tess wants to eat something we’ve put in the toss pile? We let her. Because the surest way to get a kid to appreciate real food is to let her taste the opposite. The only chemical candy that has ever survived this test is Smarties, which I give a pass for food dye because they’re so pastel I figure it can’t be that much. And she eats, what, like a roll a year?
Now. Wait. Listen. Someone, somewhere, is saying some variation of this: “Sheesh. It’s Halloween. It’s one day a year. Lighten up and let the kids have their candy, already!”
But, see, that’s the problem. It’s not just one day a year. It’s Halloween night and class parties and community events and then the winter holidays and Valentine’s Day and Easter and birthday parties and swimming class and soccer games and the bank and the shoe store and restaurants with kid menus and the grandparents’ house and anyplace else kids set foot, including, of course, school. The sugar culture is so strong, the highly processed foodstuffs so epidemic, that we no longer have the luxury of viewing these things in isolation. It’s not just a few Halloween treats or one blue cupcake. It’s a crushing pile of chemical-laden pseudo food. And at some point we just have to make it stop.
So yes, I say boo.
And what say you? How do you handle Halloween at your house?
Some (post-publishing) thoughts, prompted by reader feedback on Facebook: Yes, it is wasteful to throw the candy away, and anyone who knows me in real life knows I walk the green talk in nearly every other way. (Heck, I even tote our recyclables around on road trips.) But I unapologetically draw the line at pseudo food, Halloween candy included.
Sure, we could skip trick-or-treating altogether, but childhood is short, and I’m not going to deprive my daughter of this fun tradition with her friends. We don’t canvass the entire town or collect a huge haul, so that’s something. And we not only use some candy for gingerbread houses — we’ve also done candy experiments. But, in the end, if it’s a choice between trash in the can or trash in her body, well, there’s no question for me.
Which is also, BTW, why we won’t donate candy (or Girl Scout cookies) to food pantries. And I’m not a fan of donating candy to the troops, either. As reader Casey Hinds (a former Air Force pilot) noted on Facebook, the military is trying to combat junk and improve troops’ health. Why undermine that?
The only answer, then, is for more people to make better choices about what goes in those treat bags in the first place. For great ideas, check out Green Halloween.