Fun Size Redux

Nov. 2, 2014

So here it is just two days after Halloween night, and I’m thinking that both readers of the blog are probably sitting there munching on little tiny candy bars as they peruse the blog this Sunday. Of course there’s the chance that you aren’t reading the blog on it’s posting date, but if that’s the case, just pretend and go along with the “tiny candy bars” theme. As this week’s title suggests, we’ve hit this theme before, but that was mostly for comic effect. This time I’m going to exploit your guilt feelings over eating all those tiny little candy bars that you either pilfered from your kids Halloween treat bag or, in my case, failed to distribute to the neighbor kids who came around for Trick or Treat. Of course there’s the chance that you don’t feel any guilt, but if that’s the case, just pretend and go along with the “I feel bad about stuffing my face with tiny candy bars” theme.

You are not going to find very many nutrition experts who will step forward to assuage your guilt. It was a couple of years ago that I blogged about having dinner with Walter Willet from Harvard’s School of Public Health. It’s possible that Willet would forgive a once a year splurge on tiny candy bars, but I’m betting we are way past that now, seeing as how it’s pretty likely that you had a few of these bad boys right on Halloween night as you were dishing them out to the little ghosts and goblins that were ringing your doorbell. You might have been nibbling on them for over a week now. And since it’s the second day after Halloweeen, you probably had a face full yesterday, didn’t you? So we’re well beyond the “once a year” forgiveness policy. Those candy bars are “bad for you” because they are full of “empty calories”. They’re full of refined sugar and they very likely have a fair amount of fat, as well.

So to link this up with the last couple of blogs on nutritional science, these tiny little candy bars are, in the mindset of nutritional reductionism, bad, bad, bad because of their nutrient structure, or to put it another way, their “nutrient density.” I should probably step forward and confess that I got onto this stream of nutrition related consciousness because I was reading Gyorgy Scrinis’ book Nutritionism. It put forward lots of ideas (which we noted on October 19), and then I felt obligated to hit another lick last week by explaining what Scrinis was talking about when he referred all this to a problem in “reductionist philosophy of science”. We did a short and probably quite obscure bit on “socially relevant philosophy of science” two years ago at about this time, so I’m just taking an opportunity to knit multiple themes together this morning by pointing out that there really was a “take-home ethics” point to these philosophically obscure musings. To wit: deep connections in how we do science can come back to bite us in the butt when they become embedded in our practical mindset, not to mention public policy.

Of course, I’m not at all sure how this relates to tiny little candy bars. It’s not like Scrinis’s revelations about the reductionism in nutrition is going to excuse this kind of dietary excess, especially when it continues for more than a week. If either of my regular readers decides to plow through Nutritionism, they’ll discover that he probably would complain about the fact that tiny little candy bars are examples of highly refined and processed food. They are “miscellaneous edible objects.” The point of nutritionism is that it actually provides a number of ways that you could work your way to exonerating tiny little candy bars because, for instance, they actually don’t do all that bad when you are focused on the glycemic index. Tiny little candy bars are “gluten-free.” Or maybe you could add some vitamins or Omega 3 fatty acids and claim that they are functional foods! Scrinis wants to tell us that a focus on nutrients and food components gives the food industry too many “outs”, too many ways to divert our attention from the way that tiny little candy bars are not really food at all. I’m sorry if this spoils your morning, but don’t worry. Those leftover Halloween treats won’t last forever.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University


One thought on “Fun Size Redux

  1. Professor Paul,

    I am astonished to discover that your inner soul harbors a dedicated Candy Bar Basher. With feelings that strong I must first chide you for your anti-American behavior. (I hope “Anti American” does not trigger surveillance by both of us from the Hon. Billy Long (Republican Auctioneer, 7th District, Missouri)’s computer).

    Your stance qualifies as a Cause. The American Way is to establish some sort of fund raising organization, such as the NCAACB (Nutrition Conscious Americans Against Candy Bars).

    You must then establish the NCAACB website and begin collecting money to contribute to legislators who will support your cause. But only after first using collected revenue from your supporters to rent a huge office, furnish it lavishly, and take several necessary fact finding trips such as to Hershey PA, San Francisco CA (Ghirardelli) and a month or two in England (Cadbury).

    Far from guilt, I must report to you the exhilirating feeling I experienced not on Halloween night but just last night, the night after Haloween.

    As I rose from my easy chair to go to bed and looked around for glasses and cups to carry to the kitchen, undone reading and work to take back to the home office, and trash to discard — imagine my joy!
    deep underneath the chair side table — there it was! It turned up!
    It was the half eaten two bite once frozen Milky Way candy bar that I started eating on Halloween evening.

    The half bar is now by my chair, awaiting its opportunity to pleasure me when I devour it this evening as an accompaniment to my nutritiuous helping of B&B.

    Meanwhile, speaking of spooky figures and dangerous apparitions — next Saturday –Beware of Ohio State!

    Richard E. Thompson
    CCBF (Chocolate Candy Bars Forever)


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