How We Got Sweet On Candy

Reviewing Samira Kawash’s Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure, Virginia Postrel traces how the US came around to sweet treats:

In an industrializing America that, like contemporary China, was rife with often-valid fears of adulterated foods, “poison candy” was a favorite story dish_babyruthad of the sensationalist press. … The tales captured the imagination of a public convinced that “when control of food was given over to the factories and machines and chemists, what came out was candy: fake food, deceitful and deadly.”

Candy’s reputation improved after World War I, when lemon drops, peppermints, and chocolate bars were standard military rations. “By the time the war was over,” writes Kawash, “candy was universally embraced as real food, fit for men, women, and children alike.” Aviators, boxing champions, and long-distance runners extolled candy’s virtues as performance food. Early nutrition science equated calories with “food value,” and wrapped candy bars made that value cheap and portable—the perfect lunch for busy people on a budget. By the 1930s, a trade magazine editor recalled in a 1976 interview, “a quarter pound of Baby Ruth and a glass of milk was considered a very substantial, nourishing meal.” (A standard Baby Ruth bar today weighs half as much.)

(Image of vintage ad for Baby Ruth via Samira Kawash)