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Rachel Marie Stone Headshot

The Problem With "Unreal" Candy and Nutrition Facts Labels

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There's a place nicknamed the Museum of Failed Products in Michigan where product developer folk pay lots of money to walk up and down the aisles looking at thousands and thousands of bad ideas that never made it, like microwaveable scrambled eggs that you eat directly from the pop-up tube. I don't understand the economics of it all, but consumer capitalism is driven by constant growth, which somehow means that every single year every single company comes out with a lot of new products, only a handful of which ever make it in the long term.

The folks who create this kitschy stuff pay attention to what's going on at the moment, which is why when people started doing the low-carb thing, oxymoronic products like low-carb bread and pasta showed up and pretty much invalidated the whole point of diets like those, which is that they restrict what you're "allowed" to eat so much that you end up eating less, unless the food industry makes it possible for you to eat more, which, of course, the food industry is always happy to do. When Michael Pollan gave America his rule: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants," he included a rule saying not to eat anything with more than five ingredients, and companies scrambled to whittle down ingredient lists. Haagen-Dazs even made an ice cream called "5."

(Michael Pollan got no kickback from that, alas.)

Now, in the moment where people like me (and people with much bigger audiences than me) are saying things like "just eat real food and enjoy it," comes Unreal candy, which I want to like, created not by a multinational but by a teenager who was fed up with his parents' restrictions on his Halloween candy. Here's the thing, though: candy is candy, and even if it's made with organic, fair-trade, sustainably harvested and naturally occurring everything, it won't solve the "obesity epidemic" or type II diabetes anymore than low-carb salad dressing did. We'll never fix anything by replacing one product with another and treating the new product as mindlessly as we did the old. Remember the Snackwell's effect --people gained weight on them because the "fat-free" part lulled people into thinking that they were pretty much harmless.

Unreal candy is probably better than most of the garbage that kids get on Halloween, but it's already positioning itself in ridiculous ways, with it's "Yes we candy" ads and the helpful little chart in which Unreal is compared unfavorably to peanut M&Ms and favorably to ORANGES. Can we agree that attempting to imply that any candy (whatever its merits) stacks up favorably, nutritionally speaking, to oranges is just silly? But the magic of nutritional lables is that they somehow level ground that can't actually be leveled. I'm not against candy, and I'm certainly happy to see candy available that's not full of artificial whatevers, but it's just so annoying when a product like this -- a sugary, processed treat, let's face it -- is marketed as healthy, more like an orange than peanut M&Ms when, clearly, the chocolate and candy coated peanut is a lot more like a peanut M&M than like an orange. This same strange leveling happens when a dieter forgoes from-scratch brownies baked by a friend but will eat a diet-plan-approved, supposedly low-glycemic packaged SuperChocoBrownieSlimBlastBar (or something like) because the latter is 'healthier' somehow.

(It isn't. It never is.)

Candy is candy, not fruit, not food, not the stuff of everyday sustenance, but a treat. If we can be clear on that point, we can make room for celebration with whatever sweet thing we like best, because we haven't been eating candy disguised as fruit or nutritional meal replacements.

Because Americans don't need more obfuscation when it comes to food. We need more celebration.

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