Steve Almond - God Bless America

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CANDYFREAK (Hardcover edition) CANDYFREAK (Paperback edition)

Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America was published in 2004 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. The paperback was published in 2005 by Harvest Books. It's also available on CD, cassette and as an audio download.

Reviews

"This book will, yes, make you hungry, but it will also make you grateful-for wit, for self-effacing humor, for joyful obsessiveness, for the precise and loving use of language to crack open and celebrate our oddness-in short, for a writer as funny and big-hearted as Steve Almond. It's about candy, yes, but also it's about America, which seems to be Bigging itself towards mediocrity as it flees from the quirky virtuosic individuality on which it was founded, and of which this book is such a wonderful example."— George Saunders, author of Pastoralia and Civilwarland In Bad Decline

"I got a real sugar rush and cluster headache reading this bittersweet book by Steve Almond-joy, the sugar daddy himself. I won't sugar coat it-this book is one sweet treat." — Amy Sedaris, actress and comedienne; star of "Strangers With Candy"

"Steve Almond is the Dave Eggers of food writing." — John Thorne, author of Pot on the Fire: Further Confessions of a Renegade Cook and Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of His Roots

Excerpt

Here's a taste of Candyfreak. Later on in the book there's actual, like, information.

Prologue

Some Things You Should Know About the Author

1. The author has eaten a piece of candy every single day of his entire life.

I want you to look at this sentence and think about it briefly and, if you're so inclined, perhaps say a little prayer on behalf of my molars. This would not be unwarranted, and for supporting evidence, I refer you to Elizabeth Gulevitch, a highly competent doctor of dental surgery who spent most of the early Seventies numbing my jaw. I doubt Dr. Gulevitch is the sort to have established a hall of fame in her waiting room (she was more the Ansel Adams type) but I would like to believe that my run of seven cavities during the infamous campaign of 1973 stands as some kind of record.

Not a single day did I fail to consume, not one, not during those miserable family camping trips to Desolation Wilderness during which I kept nervous vigil over the trail mix for its meager ration of M&Ms; nor at Camp Tawonga, where I learned to savor the sweet gnash of hickies and sun-ripened Red Vines, nor on those days when I was cut off from outside supply lines, bereft of funds, during which I thieved chocolate chips from the baking shelf and pressed same into a spoonful of Jif peanut butter, nor even in the aftermath of the removal of all four of my impacted wisdom teeth by a gentleman whose name was, I believe, Doctor Robago (Italian: butcher) after which I was on liquid food for five days, and therefore partook of shakes from the Peninsula Creamery, made with mint chip ice cream.

Also: was I the only child in America who regarded Baker's Chocolate as the cruelest food product ever invented? Was I the only one who—despite repeated warnings from the Mother Unit (Barbara), despite the dark knowledge that the Mother Unit would not knowingly place a pound of chocolate within my reach, that this was simply too easy, despite even my own clear memory of having tried this stunt before and wound up with a mouthful of bitter goo—reached into the back of the cupboard and removed the box and greedily slipped a square from its curiously stiff, white wrapper? Was I the only one who gazed upon the thick, angled square, so much like a Chunky, really, in abject lust? And who held the piece to my nose and breathed in the deep brown scent and then, despite all the evidence to the contrary, simply unable to will my disbelief, bit down?

2. The author thinks about candy at least once an hour.

More than that, actually, and not just eating a particular piece of candy, but a consideration of potential candies. For several years, I've been obsessed with the idea of introducing a new candy bar into the market. A crisp wafer held together with hazelnut paste, topped by crushed hazelnuts and enrobed in dark chocolate. My friends have listened to me rather patiently and only a few have been impertinent enough to point out that no one in America actually likes hazelnuts, a kibbitz to which I generally respond: Yes, and they didn't like penicillin at first either, did they?

I think, occasionally, about the worst candy bar I ever ate, purchased on an overnight bus trip from Istanbul to Izmir back in 1986 and which had a picture of a donkey on the wrapper (this should have been a red flag) and a thick strip of cardboard to make it seem bulkier and which tasted like rancid carob and had a consistency similar to the sandy stuff Dr. Gulevitch used to blast between my teeth.

More often, though, I think about the candy bars of my youth that no longer exist, the Skrunch Bar, the Starbar, Summit, Milkshake, Powerhouse, and more recent bars which have been wrongly pulled from the shelves—Hershey's sublime Cookies 'n Mint leaps to mind—and I say kaddish for all of them.

And when I say I think about these bars I am not referring to some momentary pulsing of the nostalgia buds. I am talking about detailed considerations of how they looked and tasted, the whipped splendor of the Choco-Lite, whose tiny air pockets provided such a piquant crunch (the oral analogue to stomping on bubblewrap), the unprecedented marriage of peanuts and wafers in the Bar None, the surprising bulk of the Reggie Bar, little more than a giant peanut turtle, but round—a bar that dared to be round! Or, at the other extreme, the Marathon Bar, which stormed the racks in 1974, enjoyed a meteoric rise, died young, and left a beautiful corpse. The Marathon: a rope of caramel covered in chocolate, not even a solid piece that is, half air holes, an obvious rip-off to anyone who has mastered the basic Piagetian stages, but we couldn't resist the gimmick. And then, as if we weren't bamboozled enough, there was the sleek red package, which included a ruler on the back and thereby affirmed the First Rule of Male Adolescence:

If you give a teenage boy a candy bar with a ruler on the back of the package, he will measure his dick.

Oh where are you now, you brave stupid bars of yore? Where Oompahs, those delectable doomed pods of chocolate and peanut butter? Where the molar-ripping Bit-O-Choc? And where Caravelle, a bar so dear to my heart that I remain, two decades after its extinction, in an active state of mourning?

Without necessarily intending to, I keep abreast of candy. I can tell you, for instance, that Hershey's introduced in the fall of 2002 a Kit Kat bar with dark chocolate. I spent two weeks searching for this bar, because I had tasted a similar bar fifteen years ago, when I lived in Jerusalem and, back then, the taste had made me dance in happy little non-denominational circles, flapping my arms. Why two weeks? Because giant candy companies like Hershey's rarely devote an entire production line to a new product without market testing, which means producing a limited edition, which means people like me (that is, candyfreaks) have to stop in every single Mobil station in the greater Boston area asking the staff if they have Kit Kat Darks, because that is where my friend Alec told me he found his.

Well.

In the end, Alec—with whom I play squash, though, as a tandem, we somewhat belittle the definition of the sport—brought me a bar, purchased from the Inman Pharmacy, and I'm happy to report that it is absolutely mind-blowing. The dark chocolate coating lends the fine angles of the bar a dignified sheen and exudes a pudding-like creaminess, with coffee overtones. This more intense flavor provides a counterpoint to the slightly cloying wafer-and-filling. By the time you read this, the Kit Kat Dark will very likely have been discontinued, because it failed to make a gazillion dollars, which is a sad thing for you, I promise, though not so much for me because, in an abundance of caution, I purchased fourteen boxes (36 bars per) soon after my first taste.

I can also tell you that Nestle has introduced a Willie Wonka Bar which features crumbled bits of graham cracker in milk chocolate, and which, to date, I have only been able to find in my local movie theater. Last spring, Nestle introduced a bar called the Mocha Crunch, which I spotted in a vending machine at Boston College, of all places, and I nearly wept with joy right there in the basement of the building where I teach college students how to write sentences far more coherent than this one, because I allowed myself to dream that the woefully neglected coffee flavor might finally be finding its way into the candy bar mainstream. I envisioned rich milk chocolate infused with the smoky tang of French roast. But the bar wasn't even made of chocolate. It was some kind of white chocolate compound that looked, and tasted, like vinyl.

3. The author has between three and seven pounds of candy in his house at all times.

Perhaps you think I am exaggerating for effect.

I am not exaggerating for effect.

Here is a catalogue of all the candy in my apartment as of right now, 3:21 pm, October 6, 2003:

I am not counting the fourteen boxes of Kit Kat Limited Edition Dark, which I have stored in an undisclosed warehouse location, nor whatever candy I might have stashed, squirrel-like, in obscure drawers.

My main supplier is the Candy Shoppe, a seconds outlet located on the ground floor of the Haviland Chocolate factory in Cambridge. The Shoppe is run by an elderly Chinese woman whom I've been wooing ardently for the past two years. We've gotten to the point where she's willing to cut open the box of mint patties I bring to the counter to make sure the batch I'm buying has the soft kind of filling I favor. She gives me freebies and glances at me occasionally in a squinting manner that combines reluctant affection with a deep, abiding pity.

I am not blind to the hypocrisy of my conduct, nor to the slightly pathetic aspects of my freakdom. I am, after all, in my mid-thirties, suffering from male pattern balding and lower-back pain. I am not exactly the target demographic. What's more, my political orientation is somewhere to the left of Christ, such that I find most of American culture greedy and heedless, most especially our blithe and relentless pigging of the world's resources. I have a hard time defending the production of candy, given that it is basically crack for children and makes them dependent in unwholesome ways and given that much of our citizenry is bordering on obesity (just about what we deserve) and given that most of the folks who grow our sugar and cocoa are part of an indentured Third World workforce who earn enough, per annum, to buy maybe a Snickers bar, and given that the giants of the candy industry are, even as I write this, doing everything in their considerable power to establish freak hegemony over what they call "developing markets," meaning hooking the children of Moscow and Beijing and Nairobi on their dastardly confections.

So, the question: given all this moral knowledge, how can I lead the life of an unbridled candyfreak?