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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

38: To a Healthier Halloween

When we were kids, Halloween was the most exciting night of the year. I remember the time my brother John wanted to be a ghost. So Mom cut a hole in a big white sheet to stick his head through, leaving yards and yards of white fabric cascading down from his shoulders to flutter around him as he moved. That part was relatively simple. But la pièce de la résistance was the head. Mom carved a jack-o’-lantern, cutting a hole in the bottom (instead of in the top) of a huge pumpkin, and fitted the opening wide enough to slip right over his head. And off we went. I don’t even remember what my older sister and I were wearing—John’s costume was too exciting.

Well, we didn’t even get beyond our own neighbourhood before John, unable to see properly out the features of his giant pumpkin, tripped on his flowing sheet going down some concrete stairs and, like the proverbial Jack who went up a hill to fetch a pail of water, fell down and broke his crown. Big chunks of shattered pumpkin were all the remained of the masterpiece, and John went home crying, leaving the serious gathering of candy to his big sisters.

That’s what Halloween was really about for us: precious hoards of chocolate bars and candy, along with the more disappointing offerings of popcorn, apples, and peanuts. It is little wonder that we frequently came down with colds and flus in the week following Halloween. Sugar whacks the immune system a terrible wallop, especially in high, continuous doses following a cold, late night.

In more recent years, as we were raising our own kids, I often would make homemade treats for that special night and slip my name and phone number into the wrap so that parents could trust their children weren’t being poisoned by some whacko. Now that our kids are grown, when Halloween rolls around and I can’t come up with a good excuse to be gone for the evening, I pick up some treats to have on hand in case a few little ones show up at our rather remote location. But last year, I carefully read the ingredients on these little bagged goodies and was aghast that there were no longer any recognizable components. Not even any (not so) good old sugar. It’s been replaced, wholesale, by high-fructose corn syrup, a genetically modified abomination that is turning the health of a generation upside down. Add some chemical concoctions to give it fake flavour and colour, then some preservatives, and you have candy.

Although I still bought a package (because I didn’t want to be the “mean old lady up the road who doesn’t give out candy,” I felt that I was bestowing a very mixed blessing as I dropped handfuls into bags held by eager little hands. So it was with great interest that I read an article my daughter Rachel forwarded to me just ten days before Halloween.

It was about a young fellow named Nicky Bronner. Two years ago, when he was thirteen, his parents took away all his candy after Halloween, saying that it was not good for him. (They sound a lot like me.) But although he was initially angry, he let his anger motivate him to better things. He first set out to prove that candy wasn’t as bad as his parents said. But he quickly discovered that they were right (“for the first time ever,” says Nicky) and that it contained all kinds of junk. “I just didn't understand why it had to be this way. If candy was made with only real chocolate, real peanut butter, real caramel, and other real foods, couldn't it taste even better and be better for us?” So the young man started a company to make healthier candy. He partnered up with a creative chef and the brand Unreal Candy came into being.

To date there are five different confections available from this now 15-year-old entrepreneur, modelled after five all-time favourites: peanut M&Ms, regular M&Ms, Milky Way, Snickers, and peanut butter cups. But the difference is, “all five candies are made without corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, artificial flavors, GMOs, and synthetic colors. So while the candy still contains chocolate, natural sugar, caramel, and other ingredients, they are arguably somewhat healthier than other candy bars. … Even the dyes used to make the coloring for the M&M-like candies are natural ... ‘like red from beets [says Nicky] and blue from purple cabbage, to get the great colors on (our) candies.’”

Good luck to this young man on his mission “to unjunk the world,” and here’s to a healthier Halloween.

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