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CANDY by Samira Kawash Kirkus Star

CANDY

A Century of Panic and Pleasure

By Samira Kawash

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-86547-756-8
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A history of the creation and consumption of candy in America.

In the introduction, Kawash (Emerita, Women’s and Gender Studies/Rutgers Univ.; Dislocating the Color Line: Identity, Hybridity, and Singularity in African-American Narrative, 1997) recalls being asked by another parent, upon offering her son some jelly beans, “Oh, so I guess you’ll start giving him crack now too?” The author doesn’t use this anecdote as an opening to complain about the food police. Instead, she lays out a well-researched, enjoyable history of the manufacture, consumption, marketing and legislation of candy in America, beginning in the 1840s and concluding with an examination of “candification”—the increasingly popular use of candy-making techniques and ingredients in ordinary foods. The comparison of candy to street drugs, though rude, is nevertheless rooted in history. In the chapter “Demon Candy, Demon Rum,” Kawash explains the cultural link between candy and alcohol, and in “Fake Sweets and Fake Food,” she describes the fears of previously unknown ingredients and adulterated candy that gripped the American media in the 19th century. One of the major strengths of the book is the author’s ability to identify historical attitudes toward candy that map remarkably well onto current fears about processed foods, all while avoiding imposing an agenda on readers. Though the subject matter covered is exhaustive—including the sugared-cereal panic in the 1980s, the role of the military in candy manufacture, the rise of the candy bar as a meal replacement, the marketing of candy-making as a potential source of income to women, and more—the book never feels overly detailed or impenetrably academic.

Though the subject matter may be fluffy, the treatment is substantive and significant, representing an important contribution to the literature about what, and how, we eat in 21st-century America.