Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond
In Candyfreak, Steve Almond makes the typical chocoholic look like a quitter. Almond doesn’t just enjoy the occasional sweet indulgence. He is enamored with candy, especially chocolate candy bars. This infatuation drives his curiosity about the candy industry. It also compels Almond to wax poetic when describing candy’s taste and texture or lovingly tracing the popularity and disappearance of archaic, often regional, candies, such as Caravelle, Twin Bing, Idaho Spud, and Valomilk.
Throughout Candyfreak, Almond refers to his obsession with candy as a “freak,” arguing that the energy he expends thinking about, describing, hoarding, and consuming candy is not inherently different from the more widely accepted obsessive hobbies, such as sports fandom or extreme collecting: “[W]e don’t choose our freaks, they choose us. I don’t mean this as some kind of hippy dippy aphorism about the power of fate. We may not understand why we freak on a particular food or band or sports team. We may have no conscious control over our allegiances. But they arise from our most sacred fears and desires and, as such, they represent the truest expression of ourselves.”
Almond is clearly obsessed with candy, but his ode to saccharine delight is multifaceted, incorporating memoir, history, and a road-trip adventure. Candyfreak’s associative structure moves fluidly from Almond’s childhood memories to sensual descriptions of candy and on to more informative passages exploring the history of the candy bar in US culture.
The second half of Candyfreak features a road trip narrative, moving the book in yet another direction. Having already confronted the harsh reality that the Big Three (Nestle, Hershey, and Mars) threaten to extend their industrial dominance and overshadow small, regional candy makers, Almond sets out to acquire firsthand knowledge of the power dynamics that determine which candies American consumers turn to for pleasure and momentary comfort.
The experiences Almond has on the road reveal how the profoundly simple idea of a good candy bar can never be extricated from the influence of nostalgia, capitalist enterprise, and imperial exploitation. These revelations are unsettling, but the bond between Almond and his beloved candy bars cannot be dissolved that easily.
Candyfreak is an entertaining and informative work--one that will transform the way you look at your local candy aisle.