Sugar is my caffeine. I require daily infusions. Whether that makes me an addict is a matter of dispute. In her The Taste of Sweet, Joanne Chen relied on the official definitions: compulsively seeking a fix and resorting to destructive behavior to get it. David Kessler, author of the recent The End of Overeating, would say that my brain is a tool of the food industry, which rewires people to crave ever more of the sugar, salt, and fat it pumps into everything. Luckily, I have a sugar threshold, however startlingly high.
I feed my own, shall we say, need by looking for good sugar. In sodas, the trend toward using cane syrup in place of high-fructose corn syrup and natural versus synthetic flavors is well under way, even if higher-priced boutique sodas remain a niche market (and even if Thomas Frieden, the new head of the CDC, says that sodas lie at the heart of the country’s obesity epidemic). Premium ice cream and chocolate remain “affordable luxuries” in the bad economy, and national candy sales are growing fast. You’d think there would be a parallel trend toward artisanal, non-chocolate candy, using better sugar and non-synthesized flavorings. There hasn’t been.
I was delighted when a Boston-based company with the whimsical name of Tiny Trapeze starting making old-fashioned candy on old-fashioned candy machines but using organic sugar and all-natural ingredients. Alas, after buying the company, Whole Foods closed it last April. No more cocoa marshmallows! As for the regional candy companies that blanketed the country during the first Depression, the few remaining ones—which Steve Almond entertainingly toured for his 2004 Candyfreak—are still struggling to survive, and unlikely to put organic sugar and hard-to-get-right natural flavors and colors into embattled business plans.