Halloween Candy to the Troops
If you have kids at Halloween time, you’ve probably already started to strategize a plan for candy rationing.
Dentists in your community are happy to help. Have you heard about the Halloween Candy Buy Back? Participating dentists will accept your kids’ excess candy, pay out a dollar a pound, and send the candy to U.S. military serving overseas.
Over the years dentists have independently come up with the idea of gathering up all that extra Halloween candy and getting rid of it somehow. In 2006, Madison WI dentist Chris Kammer began to coordinate and organize the event nationally, emphasizing the buy back as a way of supporting the troops. Hundreds of local dental offices now participate. The master plan, according to Dr. Kammer, is that one day soon, dentists will “own Halloween.”
It is a win-win, as the dentists put it. Fewer pounds of candy for American kids, more pounds of candy for American troops.
Actually, taking candy from the kids and sending it to the troops is a pretty old idea.
Back in the 1890s, the German military started experimenting with sugar as a food for their soldiers. Sugar, the Germans concluded, refreshed and energized. The soldiers receiving sugar portions outperformed the sugar-free on every measure. Americans took note: Mary Hinman Abel, writing for the USDA, reported extensively on these military investigations in her 1899 study “Sugar as Food.”
The growth of candy manufacturing made more candy available for military uses. From a 1908 account of the Brooklyn candy trade:
Nowadays every battleship leaving the Brooklyn Navy Yard has on board a lot of candy for the men–Brooklyn candy. ‘Why, in the navy, when a man is handed a pound of tobacco now he is also given a certain amount of candy, and it is believed that the drinking habit will be lessened in that way,’ said a manufacturer. ‘The sailors like the plan immensely, but if they knew it was done for that, they would probably chuck the candy overboard. But aside from that, it is a good food for them; men can fight better on chocolate than on meat–that has been proved in the German army.’ (“Brooklyn leads Country in Candy Export”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 7, 1908)
Even before the U.S. joined the European war, the soldiers’ love of candy was a common theme (see my post Taking Candy from a Soldier). The war-weary GIs returning from battle in World War I brought home with them a hearty candy appetite. The explosive growth of the U.S. candy business in the 1920s and 1930s was in large part due to a new, rigorous kind of candy eating: not just kiddies and plump ladies, but big strong soldier men had to have their candy.
World War II meant once again a big demand for candy for the troops. Sugar, and candy, were in short supply state-side during the war years, partly due to war shortage, but also due to the requisitioning of huge quantities of candy for military uses. Curtiss Candy reminded customers that Uncle Sam’s needs came first:
If Americans were forced to give up some of their beloved candy to the troops in the 1940s, it was because it was the right thing, the patriotic thing to do.
And Tootsie Roll picked up the theme in their advertising:
In the Tootsie Roll ad, the joke is that the kids are mad that the grown ups are taking their candy: the soldier should buy his own Tootsie Roll. In jest or in the seriousness of war, the basic message was the same: you’ll have to give up your candy to the soldier if there isn’t enough to go around. But patriotic support of the troops is the only reason you’d forgo your candy.
In the Halloween Buy Back, the long history of “candy for the troops” collides with more recent ideas about what is bad about candy. It is dentists, after all, representatives of health and hygiene, who are encouraging kids and families to turn in their candy to send to the troops. But if the candy is bad for the kids, why isn’t it bad for the troops?
The Buy Back FAQ suggests some responses to critics who ask this annoying question:
If you get negative comments or feedback, remind critics of the purpose of Halloween Candy Buy Back:
- Halloween candy represents a warm memory of life “back home” and children that care enough to donate candy in support of our troops.
- Those troops are risking their lives every day. If a little piece of candy can provide a moment of happiness, why not?
- Soldiers are adults and certainly understand how to keep their mouths healthy by now. Children are still learning how to brush, floss, and take care of their teeth.
The first two answers emphasize candy not as candy, but as an emotion-laden symbol. This solves the conflict between candy and dental virtue by making the candy invisible: In all those crates of candy, we’re not sending candy, we’re sending support and the warmth of home.
The third reason is that kids shouldn’t have candy because candy causes cavities in kids, but somehow adults will not have this problem. Here is where things get tricky.
Cavities are caused by acids given off by bacteria as they feed on sugars and starches deposited on the teeth. Not every mouth is equally susceptible. Some kids get tons of cavities no matter what they eat. Some kids plant their face in the sugar bowl and get none. And all sugars and starches that adhere to the teeth, be they from candy, bread, pasta, jam, potatoes, and even raisins, can create a bacterial strong hold.
Of course, a “spaghetti buy back” would not put the dentists on the side of angels. Candy is easy to blame, has been for a century, and dentists have grabbed on to the candy scapegoat. This is why dentists can contemplate “owning Halloween.” Don’t get me wrong: I love my dentist. But I love my candy too.