April 19, 2014
This week we take up another food riddle for the ages. I’m sure both of my regular readers have had the occasion to snack on one of those miniature brand-name candy bars once in a while. You know what I’m talking about. I think that they introduced these things back in the 60s especially for Halloween. Back in the stone age when I was a kid roaming around south Denver neighborhoods trick or treating, people gave out un-wrapped handfuls of candy corn and homemade candied apples. Every third house or so there would be something more exotic like handfuls of M&Ms or homemade marshmallow Rice Krispies™treats. And then when you got home after having been to, say, 273 houses, you find that one incredibly generous family had given you a Snickers bar. And I mean a full size Snickers bar, which in those days was 3-4 inches long and cost a nickel.
Well what with the decline of Western civilization and all, those days were already on the wane by the time I was about ten or twelve years old. People didn’t have patience to stir up a bath of homemade divinity for the neighbor kids, and what with the urban myths about evil doers and such, parents didn’t care much for those unwrapped, artisanal treats that people were cooking up their own selves. So being the return-on-capital opportunists that they are folks in the food industry said to themselves “Carpe diem, Chucko!” It was at this point that they started selling bags of them miniature brand-name candy bars,which were about a third of a regular nickel candy bar. And speaking for the boomer kids of the sixties, we could not have been more pleased! No more stale popcorn balls. And even if lots of folks were too cheap to spring for even miniature Snickers bars and bought unrecognizable tasteless sugar pellets that came as fake name candies that seemed to appear only at Halloween, we would still wind up with the equivalent of a dozen or more real brand name candy bars just like you buy for a nickel a piece right off the candy counter at Hatch’s drugstore.
But of course now one of my regular readers is scratching his head and thinking, “Hey! Why are you blogging about Halloween candy here in the middle of April?” Meanwhile my other regular reader (more attuned to the epochal questions of eschatology) is asking “So what could any of this have to do with any of the major food riddles?” And this reader is growing increasingly skeptical that this blog will actually take on any quandaries of major socio-cultural import. So perhaps it is time to come to the point. This extended foray into what has evolved into one of the major food holidays of the late-capitalist era was launched mainly to get your attention fixed on those little candy bars that are, by now, virtually ubiquitous. You still can’t buy them at a candy counter, but the point seems to be that folks will put them out in little bowls. They lie there like the wee cakes that Alice encountered down the rabbithole, crying out “Eat me!”
If you can restrain the urge to tear off the wrapper in a fit of eagerness you will notice that they bear the label “fun size”. Not all of them, mind you. Some are “bite size” and the old Hershey’s version that has been around longer than I can recall are just called miniatures. But it’s the fun size that is of interest here today. I mean, in one sense it’s obvious where the fun is coming from. It’s candy, stupid. But what is it about this size that connotes fun? Wouldn’t a regular size candy bar be more fun? I mean, if you are really diligent and deeply engaged with delayed gratification, you can parse a fun size bar out into about four bites. They are tiny, however.
There is no mystery about other entities in the candy universe. There is the “giant size” which is fit for giants, and the “family size” which you break off into little pieces and share around. But whence comes the fun size? It’s not like a good old fashioned 4 oz candy bar was supposed to serve as a meal (even if they do have almost as many calories). That would make the niblet version fit for fun, I guess, as in “not to be taken seriously.”
Just like we’re doing here.
Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University