6 Facts About Halloween Candy Creepier Than Any Ghost Story
Creepy urban legends about candy have become as much a part of Halloween as the candy itself. Cyanide in pixie sticks, spider legs in the chocolate, razor blades in marshmallows, human remains in Wendy's chili -- no treat is safe from homicidal tampering. But the reality is that these are mere stories, not anecdotes based on fact. If you want to be scared about Halloween candy, look no further than the candy companies themselves, which have engaged in chemical poisoning, child exploitation, racketeering, and even murder to make sure that you stock up on their products every October.
Candy Has A History Of Being Actual Poison
Candy is bad for us. We've all heard the health warnings before -- rotten teeth, diabetes, the sudden urge to go into the woods and bite the heads off bears. But how about orange rashes or slow lead poisoning? Turns out it's not the sugar in candy that we should be worried about, but the stuff that candy makers put in there by accident.
In the 1950s, one of the largest incidents of mass poisoning on record was due to a specific orange food coloring used in the manufacturing of candy. After eating popcorn balls containing Orange Dye No. 1, many children came down with rashes and diarrhea, prompting a major investigation and an enduring urban legend. Investigators discovered that the dye, which was produced from the byproducts of processed coal, was indeed the culprit. Something the candy companies clearly knew, as the orange substance was so toxic that their factory workers kept coming down with the same skin rashes -- as seen in the documentary Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
"There was an accident at the factory, sir. I'm afraid your wife has been Oompa-Loompa'ed."
You would think we'd move beyond "accidental factory poisonings" in the 21st Century, but in 2006, public health officials on the West Coast discovered that basically the entire Mexican candy industry was allowing tons of lead to creep into their treats. So many children were being negatively affected by their lead-covered candies that it was considered the worst case of mass lead poisoning in the past three decades, which mathematically coincides with the former orange dye poisonings as well.
Worse yet, unlike those pumpkin spice lattes, mass candy poisonings are a year-round treat. In fact, there is lead in the chocolate in your pantry right now. A California-based consumer advocacy group has performed several studies which found "trace amounts" in almost all chocolate products, with half of the products tested exceeding the safe limits set by California. Now, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there is "no safe level of lead for children," as it can immediately start impacting their kidneys and brain. However, on a federal level, the FDA allows lead in food, as long as "there are no observable effects" -- which is their way of saying "Come back when people are legitimately going nuts."
Have they never met children on a sugar high?
They say that it was the lead in the pipes that destroyed the Roman Empire. Imagine how history books will speak of us if our decline is Raisinets.
Chocolate Runs On Child Labor
Child labor is the dirty secret behind why some of us get to live better than ancient kings on the budget of a Starbucks barista. Companies rely on the tiny hands of the third world to keep their products as cheap (and stockholders as rich) as possible. Big Chocolate is no exception, having a long history of employing child laborers to cheaply harvest their cacao. Many of the largest corporations have promised to end the scourge of child labor in their industry, though. And they've gotten really good at promising to do it, too -- they've been vowing to eradicate child labor while doing absolutely nothing to achieve that end for over a decade and a half now.
Why would they when they have the goose that lays the golden (chocolate) eggs?
More than 70 percent of the world's cocoa is grown in West Africa, whose farms heavily depend on the use of child labor to remain operational. The majority of these fields are worked by young children wielding machetes and heavy bags of cocoa beans, slaving for long hours in exchange for little to no pay. In the Ivory Coast, child labor is such a problem that the government began putting up well-meaning signs bearing the message that children should be in school and not toiling in the cocoa fields. However, the exploited children cannot read these signs, because they have been working in fields rather than going to school for most of their lives.
The plight of the underage cocoa farmer came to light in the late '90s, as a slew of journalists and documentary makers started putting two and two together. This caused such outrage that the U.S. Senate brought Big Chocolate to task. The industry vowed to end the worst of their practices by 2005 ... which they then pushed back to 2008 ... then 2010 ... and recently as far into the future as 2020. It seems that their plan is to get rid of their child laborers by simply waiting until they age out of that description.
This guy has been doing it so long that the first photo of him was only in black and white.
Despite being deprived and uneducated, the irony that their unfair labor caters the world with treats isn't lost on these children. When asked how it felt that millions of children feast on their chocolate the world over, one boy responded: "They are enjoying something that I suffered to make. They are eating my flesh." Happy Halloween, everyone!
The Candy Industry Is Cursed With Weird Deaths
It's becoming obvious that the world of candy can be pretty cutthroat, but it's hard to believe that non-figurative blood could be spilled in the name of chocolate, right? But when the going gets tough in the candy industry, people start dropping faster than contest winners in a chocolate factory.
"Forget it, Jake. It's Candyland."
Violent death follows the candy industry around worse than a bad high school yearbook photo. Take the disappearance of Helen Vorhees Brach. The 65-year-old widow, who was the heiress of the Brach's Confections fortune, vanished after a routine medical checkup in 1977. Eventually, police arrested a slick stable owner by the name of Richard J. Bailey, who had swindled Mrs. Vorhees Brach out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent horse deals, and according to the state prosecutor, ordered a hit on the widow. However, not enough evidence existed to convict Bailey of her murder, so the court sentenced him to life imprisonment for fraud instead. As any sticky-fingered child knows, you never escape candy justice.
Thankfully, murder ghosts don't need to worry about cavities.
Sometimes the sticky, sweet release of death comes by the confectioner's own hand. When Stephany's Chocolates started hurting so bad for cash that they couldn't even pay their employees, owner Hal Strottman invited a friend over to help deal with "a raccoon meddling" in his yard. But when his buddy turned up on his doorstep, he found Strottman with most of his head blown off and his shotgun within reach. Strottman's loved ones would cling to the theory that this was all an unfortunate accident, and that their patriarch had not killed himself for the insurance money. "If it was a suicide, I believe he died for the company," his wife said later, presumably after realizing that insisting her husband accidentally shot his own face off while chasing a raccoon was way more difficult to reconcile.
But no one in the candy game is more violent and dangerous than the ominously sounding Jelly Belly family. Jelly Belly chairman Herman Rowland Sr. has two great loves: jelly beans and military-grade weaponry. The candy magnate has an entire showroom dedicated to restoring old war machines, which he lovingly calls "the Tank Barn." Herman Sr. has even tried to combine his two passions, first rigging a cannon and then a tank to fire jelly beans into crowds in a grand gesture of violent hilarity. The jelly bean family's obsession with weaponizing their treats came to a head when, in a tragedy that we assume was widely predicted, his son-in-law killed one of the company's employees, Kevin Wright, by running him over with a World War II M5 tank at a party. Wright's family immediately sued the Rowlands for the obvious negligence of letting some fucking idiot drive around in a tank at a company party.
Not that we should feel too sorry for all these well off candy pushers, because ...
Candy Companies Are Essentially Cartels
When we think of cartels, we tend to think of bad guys from Steven Seagal movies, the leaders of ruthless drug armies who litter the street with the heads of anyone fool enough to cross them or interfere with their business. But cartels can form in any industry in which enough big players decide to band together and artificially raise prices to screw over their customers. And Big Chocolate is no exception.
"Maybe you stop this entry before we send you to sleep with the diabetic fishes."
In 2008, a whopping 50 civil suits were filed against major chocolate companies (including Hershey), accusing them of colluding to artificially inflate the prices of their candies. One by one, each major company would make their products more expensive, allowing all the other companies to raise their prices to "remain competitive," until each company had increased its prices by 17 percent. At the time, it was alleged that these companies had been scheming on their chocolate prices for years -- an accusation the companies staunchly denied.
How else were they going to afford 10 percent more nuts in every bite?
Then, in 2013, Germany kicked off a major probe into the price-fixing of 11 different companies, accusing the candy makers of once again coordinating their prices to gain control of the market. Eventually, the country's antitrust regulator slapped the companies with $60 million in fines for artificially raising prices -- though that probably still left them with quite a substantial pricing profit. A few months later, Canada would slap chocolate companies with the same accusations. However, in 2015, Canada's suddenly dropped its investigation without giving any explanation. Presumably, the attorney general came home to find the family dog coated in rich, creamy milk chocolate, and declined to dig any deeper.
The Candy Industry Now Regulates Its Own Advertising
Just like cigarettes and brightly colored cereal, candy companies once received major flack for peddling their unhealthy wares directly into the faces of eager little children. Humbled by the accusations of manipulating young minds, the upstanding candy men willingly signed up for the Children's Confection Advertising Initiative in early 2016. The self-imposed initiative implements a set of rules designed to prevent anyone in the industry from producing ads directed at kids under the age of 12, because apparently 12 is the age when you begin making sound independent decisions.
"Dentist, schmentist. Pass me another Chocolate Enamel Destroyer."
However, these companies found tricky ways to get around the rules to ensure that children's eyeballs still land on their advertising. As promised, candy companies did pull all their marketing from children's programming, but nothing in their pledge mentions anything about advertising on family networks with a "higher-than-average youth audience." And they're really ramping it up too, with about a third of child-prohibited advertising still reaching kids on channels like Nick at Nite, ABC Family, and Adult Swim. All the while, candy companies can pretend they're keeping their noses clean by only advertising on networks that aren't exclusively for children. And again, because this is self-imposed regulation, there's absolutely no one who can call them out on their bullshit. Candy always wins, man.
Candy Strong-Armed Its Way Into Halloween
You might think that trick-or-treating is as old as Halloween itself, but you'd be wrong. The time-honored tradition of donning creepy masks, knocking on your neighbor's' door, and asking for free handouts of a food that most people do not regularly keep in their homes is a fairly recent addition to a holiday that's supposed to be the Christmas Eve of remembering dead people. However, when the candy corporations figured out there was a new holiday to commercialize, they quickly claimed Halloween as their own. And they got there by doing what they do best: relying on people's fears and weaknesses.
Demanding sweets from strangers had its origins in the late 1930s. But back then, there were no rules to what a friendly neighbor should give. It was the Wild West of trick-or-treating, with children going door to door never knowing what would get dropped into their bags. They could walk away with a handful of fruit, nuts, toys, or even stone-cold cash.
Halloween used to be the Russian roulette of child happiness.
So by the 1950s (which you may remember as the decade when they poisoned scores of children with orange dye), candy companies began pushing for candy to be the official "treat" of Halloween. Sick and tired of not knowing what to give or how much to spend, people started embracing the simplicity of buying cheap and easily quantifiable candy bars and throwing them at passing kids. The adoption of the sweet treats was slow going at first, but during the 1970s, a new fear would grip parents that provided the catalyst needed for America to turn Halloween into the holiday of candy: the fear of strangers randomly poisoning your children.
By the time that Halloween was in full swing, those same urban legends we've all heard started popping up for the first time -- some kid ate an apple with a razor blade in it, or a piece of glass, or just a hearty injection of bleach. Maniacs tampering with treats became the biggest concern during Halloween. Unlike candied apples and chocolate peanuts, branded candy (as the candy companies were quick to point out) comes individually sealed and wrapped, providing an immediate barrier from would-be poisoners and mollifying anxious parents. Never mind the price-fixing, the brainwashing, the actual factory poisonings, or the child labor -- the greatest boon the candy industry ever got was a scary story about a razor blade in an apple. Because of that, they got to take over an entire holiday.
So if you're still not sure what monster to dress up as this Halloween, you can always go as a candy maker.
Carolyn continues to love chocolate and Twitter.
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