Preview: Samira Kawash – Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure


“IIIII want candy!” the famous song penned by Bert Berns goes. Seemingly for as long as candy has existed, children have been taught that candy is bad: it’ll rot your teeth; it’ll work you up and spoil your appetite; you’ll become obese and develop diabetes. Who would have thought something so sweet could have gotten such a bad rap? Cultural historian and candy expert Samira Kawash ponders this in her new book Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure.

The answers may be obvious, if the average supermarket wasn’t jam-packed with “foods” that vogue under the veils of health benefit-boasting labels. Equally processed and loaded with additives, many of these food items, products which claim to be “natural,” are, in fact, just as unhealthy in comparison to their shamelessly sugary,  honest, even, counterparts. No doubt, adults have no qualms in springing for energy-boosting sports bars or substituting for their children fruit snacks in lieu of any selection from the rainbow platters of convenience counters. Could the reason behind Kawash’s question be intentionality? Pleasure eating versus consuming for the practicality of sustenance and the virtue of good health? Or could the reason just be lack of awareness?

Kawash takes readers all the way back to candy’s widespread introduction into the American marketplace and works her way through likely little known facets of candy’s history. Amongst her stops in time are the moral crusade at the turn of the century that accused candy of insalubrious afflictions, including alcoholism and sexual depravity, the flipside wherein the federal government made sweets an essential part of military rations during the First World War and more contemporary apprehensions regarding candy’s link to hyperactivity, child health and the stuff of dentists’ dreams.

If you’re a self-admitted, guilt-ridden sweet-tooth, perhaps Samira Kawash’s Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure will soothe your jangled nerves. Even if you’re not, Candy is still an eye-opening, myth-busting and, simply enough, interesting read. Discover how candy has evolved into the pariah of the edible world, and maybe you’ll be able sing that decades old jingle loud and proud, with none of the resurgent, suppressed guilt. Well, maybe not as much guilt. Everything in moderation!

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu