Review: Candyfreak by Steve Almond

by Kim on October 29, 2010 · 26 comments

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Title: Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
Steve Almond
Narrative Nonfiction
Bought from Barnes & Noble
Rating: ★★★★☆

One Sentence Summary: In Candyfreak, Steve Almond goes on an exploration of how the world of candy in the United States in changing and what that might mean.

One Sentence Review: Candyfreak has lots of mature themes about corporate takeover and the role of food with memory, but it’s best feature is the fact that it’s a book that loves and glorifies candy – yum.

Why I Read It: Candy is my favorite part of Halloween, so this seemed like a perfect sort of read to pick up around this time of year.

Long Review: Going trick-or-treating was always my favorite part of Halloween. I loved the feeling of running down the street, a pillowcase heavy with candy bumping against my calves, then getting home and dumping the haul out on the floor. I’d spend the next hour, two hours, sorting the candy piece-by-piece into piles – “Don’t Eat This Or I’ll Scream” and “This Is Ok To Sneak” – and unwrapping the most delicious.

Late, late that night I’d go to bed a mix of exhausted and high on sugar, only to wake up the next morning and sneak a Hershey Bar before breakfast. Unfortunately, my sweet tooth has never really abated, which is why I had to read Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond.

Candyfreak is about a lot of different things – the connections between food and memory, the impact of corporate takeover of small businesses, and nostalgia for simpler times – which are all lovely and mature topics for a book.

But even more obviously, Candyfreak is a book that celebrates delicious, scrumptious, candy. It’s like chocolaty food porn, except with an actual narrative told by a really funny guy. It’s a love story to candy, and for all those reasons I thought this book was awesome.

Steve Almond is a novelist and nonfiction writer who starts out Candyfreak with the following facts: he has eaten at least one piece of candy every day of his life, he thinks about candy at least once an hour, and he has between three and seven pounds of candy in his house at any given time.

However, Almond recognizes this obsession is unhealthy – for his body and for the health of the nation. He notes,

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?

The rest of the story follows Almond’s exploration of candy culture and its changing demographics. He visits small candy factories that are being gobbled up by conglomerates, candy lovers preserving candy culture, and his own history and growth as it connects to candy. It’s a meandering journey, to be sure, but it’s just decadent to read.

If you need any more convincing about how much I enjoyed this book and how good the food writing actually is, I offer you the following anecdote – after reading an especially mouth-watering passage about a candy called Five Star Bars, I went online, did a Google search for the bars in question, and was one click away from dropping $17.95 on the assorted five pack which includes hazelnut, fruit and nut, peanut, caramel, and granola. That’s a little much, even for me.

But that’s what Candyfreak makes the reader do – celebrate having a sweet tooth, remember a favorite candy that’s long gone, and take a journey through the story of chocolate that can’t help but make you smile.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

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