The Candy Parenthesis

I don’t like candy.

Sure, I had my Halloween hoard like any kid, and I’ve snagged a Snickers in line at the supermarket plenty of times. But really, I don’t like this stuff. It brings me no joy—and in fact, I think it symbolizes a lot of the problems with our food system today. Luckily, I think candy is a historical accident, not a food group. And I think its days are numbered.

Here’s an analogy. In media, there’s an idea called the Gutenberg Parenthesis. The argument is that the age of books has been an exceptional episode in human history. Before Gutenberg, there was this huge oral tradition stretching back millennia; today, with TV and the internet, a new kind of oral tradition stretches out before us. The point is: something that seems as basic and old-fashioned as a book might in fact be a strange and fleeting exception.

I think candy is a strange and fleeting exception.

When I say “candy” I don’t just mean “sweet stuff.” Sweet stuff means macaroons, sweet stuff means laddu, sweet stuff means—oh yes—it means Honeycrisp. When I say “candy” I’m talking about modern candy, Halloween candy, candy in cardboard boxes and rainbow wrappers. I’m talking about sweet stuff that was made months ago and miles away.

It would be one thing if modern candy really was the nectar of the gods. Then you might justify it; you might say, well, yes, this is a strange substance, made from strange ingredients in a strange far-off factory, but wow, it’s worth it.

But ew, I just don’t think that’s the case. Think about the dry, dusty moonscape of the Three Musketeers; the plasticene turd of the Tootsie Roll; the terror of the Milk Dud. Yes, think hard about the Milk Dud. Think about that viscous synthetic choco-glue adhering to your back-most molars.

The trick is on us: none of this is actually any good.

Over time, our food system is going to get smart again—well, either that or we’ll go extinct, and I’m an optimist; I’m betting on mankind, not Milk Duds. So here’s what’s going to happen: we’ll get wise, and the candy-industrial complex will go away. We’ll leave the boxes and wrappers behind and forget we ever knew words like “Necco wafer” and “Shock Tart.” And then—not a moment too soon—the close of the Candy Parenthesis will have come.

Here—have an apple.


Candygrams are odes to candy by guest authors during the month of October.

Robin Sloan

Robin Sloan is a writer and media inventor in San Francisco. He also works on media partnerships at Twitter.


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