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Is It OK To Throw Out Halloween Candy?

Let's do this. (docoverachiever/flickr)
Let's do this. (docoverachiever/flickr)
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Editor's Note: This is a special, off-cycle edition of Cog's Heavy Meddle advice column. New posts usually appear on Mondays.

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Dear Steve,

Candy has virtually no nutritional value, so is it still wasteful/immoral to simply throw it out?

Signed,
Aspiring to Sugarfree

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Dear Sugarfree,

You’re putting me in a rough spot here. For one thing, I’m on the record as the human clown who wrote an entire book about candy. For another thing, I have three small children who spent most of yesterday and all this morning in a state of hyperglycemic rapture. For a third thing, we have about 10 pounds of candy in our home right now.

And my guess is that this third thing describes the situation a lot of Americans find themselves in. Why? Because, while we have cut down on soda as a nation, we remain completely addicted to candy, and use Halloween as our designated binge.

There’s been a massive inflation of the amount of candy we’re buying and consuming. I see this in our own home. It used to be that we bought a single bag of candy. Now we buy three. Why? “Just to be on the safe side.” As a result, we give away handfuls of candy, rather than just one piece. And our kids come home with much more for the same reason. It’s officially out of control.

I mention all this not to avoid your question, but because it bears on the real issue, which is that our culture has gotten out of control regarding the consumption around Halloween. The surest way to avoid having to face the question you pose is simply to bring less candy into your home.

But obviously, the horse is out of the barn in that respect. So the question is: what to do with the excess?

There’s no question that throwing away candy is wasteful. It’s the definition of wasteful. But the question of morality is a bit more complicated and frankly subjective. There’s an argument to be made that the damage candy does our health justifies its disposal.

In the end, what your question really says to me is that consumer culture has overtaken our common sense; that we’ve allowed a cute tradition to curdle into mass gluttony.

That’s not where I come down. I happen to think that throwing away any edible food is immoral. It’s a pet peeve of mine, and the reason my children’s leftovers compose roughly 43 percent of my total caloric intake. (Ask my wife.) So I’d urge you not to throw away candy.

Instead, check out a website such as Halloween Candy Buyback, which offers you the opportunity to take part in a candy swap, or to ship your candy to a non-profit. There are other such sites where you can track down local donation options. I realize this sounds like a drag. But it’s better, in my view, than allowing perfectly good food to go to waste.

I realize that my characterization of candy as “perfectly good food” may raise some hackles. I don’t mean to suggest that candy has a high nutritional value. It’s full of sugar and corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors. Yes. It’s contributing to an obesity epidemic, diabetes, and dental ruin. Correct. It causes children to go a little crazy, then crash into tantrums. Demonstrably true, particularly in my home over the past 24 hours.

But it’s still food. To make that food, ingredients had to be harvested and processed and assembled, then packaged and distributed. To throw away those calories — empty or inimical as they may be — is a net loss. I’d avoid it if you can.

That being said, I should stress that this is a decision every individual gets to make for her or himself. I’ve given you my take. But some folks feel just fine about tossing those Snickers bars.

In the end, what your question really says to me is that consumer culture has overtaken our common sense; that we’ve allowed a cute tradition to curdle into mass gluttony. I’m not suggesting that we boycott Halloween or anything like that. But after reading your letter and thinking about it, I did march upstairs and announce to my wife that we had to bring less candy into our home each Halloween. That means buying only one bag, not three. And having our kids take one piece of candy from each home, not a handful.

I hope some of this babble helps.

Steve

Author's note: Wow. That was pretty intense. It felt kind of like a Candyfreak apostasy. But I do feel like things have gotten out of control with Halloween, and this question is really just a symptom of what amounts to a mass hysteria. What do you think? Let Sugarfree know in the comment section below. And feel free to send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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