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A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Samira Kawash

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Candy Download image

ISBN10: 0865478171
ISBN13: 9780865478176

Trade Paperback

428 Pages



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Many adults who wouldn't dream of indulging in a Snickers bar or jelly beans feel fine snacking on sports bars and giving their children fruit snacks. For most Americans, candy is enjoyed guiltily and considered the most unhealthy thing we eat. But why? Candy accounts for less than ten percent of the added sugar in the American diet. And at least it's honest about what it is—a processed food, eaten for pleasure, with no particular nutritional benefit. What should really worry consumers is the fact that today every aisle in the supermarket contains highly manipulated products that have all the qualities of candy. So how did our definitions of food and candy come to be so muddled?

Candy tells the strange, fascinating story of how candy evolved in America and how it became a scapegoat for all our fears about the changing nature of food. Samira Kawash takes us from the moral crusaders at the turn of the century, who blamed candy for everything from poisoning to alcoholism to sexual depravity; to the reason why the government made candy an essential part of rations during World War I (and how the troops came back craving it like never before); to current worries about hyperactivity, cavities, and obesity.

Candy is an essential, lively cultural history.


Praise for Candy

"In this delightful, intriguing account of candy in the United States, Samira Kawash argues that we must stop vilifying this sugary treat and start taking it more seriously—as a cultural icon, a marker of gender identity, a prototype of the marketing of processed foods, a source of pleasure for children and adults, and, for good or ill, a contributor to daily diets." —Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University, and author of What to Eat

"Sweetly exhaustive social history . . . The author makes able use of her learning to illuminate these matters in prose that is blessedly free of jaw-busting jargon." —Daniel Akst, The Wall Street Journal

"[The] future, of course, is now, when so-called granola bars, breakfast bars, and energy bars are, in fact, candy bars . . . None of these things, enriched to the hilt though they may be, are any better for us than a Snickers bar. Nor, for the most part, are cookies with whole grains in them, or ‘fruit' snacks for children, which Kawash refers to, in what may be my favorite phrase in any book ever, as ‘candy training pants'. . . Marvelous." —Melanie Rehak, Bookforum

"If you're a self-admitted, guilt-ridden sweet-tooth, perhaps Samira Kawash's Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure will soothe your jangled nerves. Even if you're not, Candy is still an eye-opening, myth-busting and, simply enough, interesting read." —Leslie Ken Chu, Vancouver Weekly

"Kawash dives deep into the American relationship with candy, finding irrational and interesting ideas everywhere . . . [She is] interested in untangling the threads of control, danger and temptation that candy has carried since it became widely available in the 1880s." —Julia Moskin, The New York Times

"This fun and substantive guide is a unique take on the history of candy, examining every argument and complementing candy lovers' belief in ‘excess in moderation'." —Dylan Lauren, owner of Dylan's Candy Bar

"In a book that's both erudite and entertaining, Samira Kawash explores the history of candy and candified food—and comes down on the side of candy." —Jeri Quinzio, author of Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making

"Though the subject matter may be fluffy, the treatment is substantive and significant, representing an important contribution to the literature about what, and how, we eat in 21st-century America.." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In her proficient cultural study, Kawash looks at the manipulation of glucose, fructose, and creative derivatives of corn and soy in the ever-more-pervasive move toward processed foods, which blurs the definition of candy." —Publisher's Weekly

"Lively, engaging, deliciously descriptive . . . Kawash makes a balanced case against accepting ultraprocessed foods at face value. With a helpful heaping of information in every verbal bite, this fascinating social and culinary history gives readers a deeper understanding of the powerful forces at work behind the brightly colored wrappers." —Bridget Thoreson, Booklist (starred review)

"This title is no insubstantial confection. Its thoroughness and documentation will appeal to those with an avid interest in the history of candy consumption and American culture." —Courtney Greene, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

1. Evil or Just Misunderstood?

It all started with the Jelly Bean Incident.
My daughter was three years old, and she loved jelly beans. A baby fistful of the brightly colored morsels was just about the biggest prize she could...

About the author

Samira Kawash

Samira Kawash has a PhD in literary studies from Duke University and is a professor emerita at Rutgers University. She is the author of Dislocating the Color Line and the founder of the website Kawash lives in Brooklyn, New York.

© Tamara Staples

Samira Kawash

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