Free Candy is Not So Free After All
I get a lot of offers for free candy samples, and mostly I say no. I want to focus on ideas and stories and history. I don’t think I should accept free things unless there is a possibility that I will write about them (not a promise, but a possibility). That after all is the reason someone is offering a sample. It’s not a matter of quid pro quo, but of good faith. They wouldn’t be offering me candy samples if I was running a rubber tire web site.
Even when it is not a matter of candy, I am suspicious of free stuff. There is always a catch. Because if it is something you want, you would pay for it. So when it comes free, do you want it because you want it, or because it’s free? People seem to get a little crazy around free stuff. Do you really want that logo key chain your bank is giving away? Do you really need another tote bag from your public radio station? Probably not. Probably you have too much stuff already. Probably you are going to take these things home and stuff them in the back of the closet. But around free stuff, we all seem to revert to atavistic hoarding behaviors. Mostly, I guess this is pretty harmless. Garage sales and thrift stores are easy purgative outlets for our tendency to accumulate. Eventually, all of it ends up at the dump. Waste, to be sure. Environmentally destructive, absolutely. But not likely to have an immediate effect on your health.
Free candy samples, on the other hand, are a serious menace in my household at the moment. Blame it on the candy show. The whole point of the candy show, of course, is to put candy into the hands of people who can help candy makers build their business: buyers, brokers, and even little bloggers like yours truly. Perhaps I did not fully appreciate that when I packed my bag to go to Chicago. I want looking for stories. I got some stories. But mostly what I got was free candy.
Some of this candy truly interests me. I have been happy to taste some new things. Having all that candy spread over three acres has given me lots of ideas. So overall, it’s been a good thing. The problem is, I somehow managed to bring home 20 pounds of free samples. Although I started with the best intentions of selectivity and restraint, somehow the more I could have the more I took. So I now have a huge quantity of candy sitting in bags next to my desk. And instead of stuffing it in the back of the closet, I seem to be stuffing it in my mouth. Waste, to be sure. Physically destructive, absolutely.
It’s not just me. We are a greedy people. Offered more, we take it, whether we need it or not. This is my conclusion, having spent much of the candy show watching perfectly respectable adults push others aside to snatch oversized handfuls of jellybean packets or furtively stuff their briefcases with mini-MilkyWays. You can buy this stuff for a couple of bucks at CVS if you want it. The grabbing and stuffing is about some more primordial instinct.
And this is normal and expected behavior in our culture. Yesterday I was in a chain bakery shop to buy three cookies for the three people in my family. The clerk points out a promotional deal: buy three get one free. I protest: I only want three cookies. The clerk looks at me like I’m from Mars. The fourth one is free, she insists. Don’t you want a free cookie? Well, no. I want three cookies. If I wanted four cookies, I would have ordered four cookies. But can I really turn down a cookie that I don’t have to pay for? After all, as the clerk points out, it is the same $3.75 whether I have three or four cookies in my sack. Clearly I should take the fourth cookie. In fact, based on the clerk’s incredulous and vaguely offended response to my efforts to demur, I seem to have incurred a social obligation to accept the fourth cookie. But now I have a problem: I have an extra cookie. I can try to give it away, but more likely is this: I’m going to eat it.
The truth is, when it comes to Cokes and cookies and candy, “free” is not free at all. Once I have it, I value it. It’s mine, and I’m not letting it go. And it’s not enough to hoard it in the cupboard. Food is not for saving (unless you’re expecting the apocalypse). Food is for eating. And make no mistake: the price may have been zero, but that fourth cookie costs me a lot when I eat it.
So what am I going to do about this pile of candy that has arrived unbidden and unpaid for? Sadly, I realize it’s time for some candy purging. Much as I hate to see so much good stuff go to waste, better the waste basket than the waistline.
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