If you ask me, the scariest thing about Halloween isn’t the little ghosts, ghouls, and goblins, but the unhealthy haul of Halloween candy in their over-sized plastic pumpkins.
The Halloween candy conflict
I hate to be a spoil sport. Truly I do. My mom hated all things scary that came with Halloween, and it soured the holiday for me (unnecessarily, in my opinion). My caution is different, but I still don’t want it to kill the fun for my kids. The joy of dressing up and going home to home in the neighborhood, getting a treat at every door, is something they look forward to, a thrill. And it’s one day out of the year. They should be able to enjoy it, right? So why does it give me so much anxiety?
For one, it feels incongruous. I’m walking my children door to door to collect a bucketful of candy that I don’t want them to eat. What follows is a negotiation over how much they can have, and when, and an eventual throwing away of much of the haul, which feels like a total waste. I know many other moms and dads share this same struggle, because I read their posts and comments on social media. (Some donate their candy instead of throwing it out, an idea I like philosophically, but I have a hard time giving it to others when I don’t think it’s good for any of us.) *Sigh.*
The White Devil
I have dreaded the inevitable Halloween candy conflict ever since we changed our family diet in 2014 (initially to help Isaac, though Todd and I found many benefits, as well). Prompted by a holistic physical therapist, we read a book titled Gut and Psychology Syndrome (or GAPS), by Natasha Campbell-McBride. I’m not necessarily recommending the book, at least not for everyone. It is a hard read and an even harder diet. But I learned some things about health and the role of gut bacteria in that book that fundamentally changed the way I think about food. The author’s nickname for sugar? The white devil.
Sugar is one of the biggest problems in the Standard American Diet (which truly is SAD). We are all addicted, and our present food environment is perpetuating that addiction in our kids. Studies show that the pleasure centers in the brain actually respond to sugar consumption in the same way they respond to opiates and other highly addictive drugs. For children with certain special needs, the response to eating sugar is like a “hit,” and the behavior that follows can be unpredictable. (I speak from experience.) If each piece of candy or sugar-filled “food” continues this cycle, it seems pretty clear that we need to say no to sugar.
The white devil may appear innocent enough, but trust me, it’s the true bad guy, on Halloween and all other days of the year.
An alternative to Halloween Candy
I wish I could tell you I have a brilliant alternative to candy that’s an easy switch and delights all kids, but I don’t.
That said, some great initiatives have emerged in recent years, like the Teal Pumpkin Project, which encourages offering non-food items for the benefit of sensitive populations (in addition to candy, if you so choose). This is essentially what we do at our house, handing out Halloween pencils, spider rings, glow bracelets, temporary tattoos, etc., when little monsters ring our doorbell. The Teal Pumpkin Project offers a helpful list of non-food prizes for people who wish to participate.
The problem with offering both candy and prizes is that every kid I know would still choose the candy (except, perhaps, for the kids who actually carry teal pumpkins), so problem not entirely solved. I’m aware that some kids are disappointed by getting prizes instead of sweets, as they do at our house, but I can handle being the “trick” in trick-or-treating.
Whatever happened to tricks?
What we do on Halloween is really “treat-or-treating” anyway, like so much else that we do in our consumer society. Instead of treats being occasional little indulgences to celebrate a birthday or special occasion, they are part of every occasion–often in excess–and in many homes, the end to every meal. The Simpson’s were spot on, I’m afraid, in naming “Butterfinger” a food group.
I have no illusions that our one address handing out non-food items makes any real difference in the Halloween candy conflict, even for my own kids. What we really need–and not just on Halloween–is a huge pendulum swing back in the direction of health and moderation. And that’s not something we can accomplish for all of society in one household. It has to be a movement, an intentional shift on the part of many. I’m in. Are you?
If we can accomplish that cultural shift–toward real food over convenience, toward temperance over excess–we’ll be playing quite a trick on the powers that be, who created our current, out of control, food environment, quite apart from our consent. We’ll be taking our health–and our kids’ health–back. And maybe, in a society that truly prioritizes health, Halloween candy could be a minor player in my food anxieties, a little something I could let my kids enjoy.
But we’re not there yet.