In Jill's Words

I dedicate this site to my mother. She was a columnist and an author with the uncanny ability to find humor in the daily ins and outs of life. She faced every challenge with a witty optimism, including the cancer that ended her life too soon.

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Location: Boise, Idaho, United States

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Halloween Candy Dilemma (RE-POST FROM 11/4/11)

This post was originally published on 11/4/11. Enjoy this blast from the past!

As my husband and I prepared for Halloween, I was consumed with a nagging sense of guilt that had been festering over the last few years.

My students get almost more excited about Halloween than they do about Christmas, all that frenzy over a pillowcase full of free sugar. On top of that, on Fridays at my school, the kids can buy popcorn, Popsicles, and - on special occasions - cotton candy. This year, the "special occasion" happened to fall on the Friday before Halloween - as if they weren't going to be eating enough junk already.

Of course, I suppose I contribute to this problem. I have a couple packages of Dum Dums and Smarties (notice the cute juxtaposition) hidden in my classroom for students who help me move instruments or risers around.

Our school also sponsors a special trick-or-treat night where the kids can parade through the school, after hours, in their costumes, while the teachers stand in front of their classrooms and pass out candy. It actually makes for a fun evening, and it's a great excuse to see the kids in their Halloween best. But it also means kids get two nights of trick-or-treating or, in other words, double the candy.

I started to reevaluate my feelings about handing out candy on Halloween. Plus, I was not happy with the Hershey Corporation's recent use of foreign student slave labor. How could Dan and I promote a healthy lifestyle and be socially responsible on Halloween, the sugariest night of the year?

On Cotton Candy/Popcorn Friday, I discussed my misgivings with my co-workers in the faculty room. One teacher said that she and her husband give their grandkids graham crackers and a couple of pieces of candy. Another teacher said that she buys playing or trading cards at Costco as alternatives to sweets.

"I'm thinking about handing out apples and toothbrushes this year," I lied, knowing I would never have the guts to do that.

“That's a good way to get your house egged," said one of the student teachers.

Dan and I had just watched a TV show the night before where one of the characters decided to give full-size candy bars to the trick-or-treaters.

“I’m going to be the hero of the neighborhood,” the guy announced proudly, accompanied by a laugh track. Dan and I - sheepishly - shared that sentiment.

We didn't want to be the uncool, granola neighbors. I had heard my students talk about those people.

"Oh, you're that house," one of my former students said when I told her I had considered handing out fruit this year. "Some hippie lady gave us organic chocolate, and it's disgusting."

"One lady said she ran out of candy so she gave me an apple instead," another student once told me disdainfully.

So, Dan and I found ourselves at the grocery store staring at shelf after shelf of chocolate gluttony.

"We could get sugar-free candy,” Dan suggested half-heartedly.

"That's almost as bad as giving them dental floss."

"It's kind of the parents' job to monitor how much candy their kids eat."

With that part of my conundrum rationalized, we took up the daunting task of deciding what kind of candy to buy. As I said earlier, we were boycotting Hershey this Halloween. Dan also said he had heard socially irresponsible things about Nestle.

"I don't know about Mars. It's probably just as bad," Dan said.

"Well, ignorance is bliss, I guess."

(And yes, I discovered later, Mars Incorporated has had similar labor/fair practice issues in the past. It is supposedly taking steps to rectify this, not that my expectations are all that high.)

Then we had to decide how many bags to buy. The big bags were 30 cents per ounce, and the small bags were 20 cents per ounce.

"I'm not spending that much on these weirdo kids just so they can have free candy and get diabetes," I said, reaching for the small bags. "No more than one - two pieces max."

"It's okay if we have leftovers," Dan hinted.

"Yeah, we can just eat it all to keep the kids from making bad nutritional choices."

It took the first little Woody from Toy Story ringing our doorbell - "Twick ow Tweat!" - to make me forget about my aversion toward the candy industry.

"You want a piece of candy? Here, take four or five!"

We ended up running to the store and buying two more bags.

At school the next day, one of my fourth graders brought me an apple. She was only the second student to bring me an apple in my ten years of teaching. Did she really love me, her wonderful music teacher? Or did she just make the mistake of trick-or-treating at the neighborhood hippie house the night before?

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