Trick or Treat?

My mother thinks it’s hypocritical to let my kids go out trick-or-treating when I’m always railing against the evils of sugar. But it’s an experience I don’t want them to miss.

How often do you get to don a scary costume and prowl around in the dark, scaring even the adults? Or channel your favorite alter ego, leaving everyday forms behind? Ring the doorbell of a stranger’s house, and make ridiculous demands? In what other context would you be rewarded with gifts and good humor? It seems so bizarre and vaguely…East European.

But like some archetypal, Old World fairy tale, Halloween lets children explore their psyches and wrestle with demons. Including the demon of sugar.

And make no mistake, sugar is one of our biggest enemies. If you don’t take my word for it, then view UCSF’s Dr. Robert Lustig’s recent Huffington post article or his youtube video/lecture, “The Bitter Truth,” which has already has 3 million hits:


If you believe Lustig, as I do, sugar is an invidious, multi-headed monster that lurks in most commercially-prepared foods and drinks, causing obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and a plethora of other health and behavior issues.

But at Halloween, emboldened by “tradition,” the monster comes out of hiding and parades smugly through the streets in gaudy,  grisly, colorful packaging. Everyone “oohs” and “ahs” and kisses his Laffy Taffy. Sucks his Sweet Tarts. Licks his Blow Pops.The magnitude of his power, his size and scope, quantity and variety is downright irresistible to everyone, adults and children alike.

“I’m telling you; it’s all out there for the taking! And it’s free!!!”

When I was a kid, my brother and sister and I used to lug big paper grocery sacks full of it on Halloween night, a testament to our  hard work, ingenuity, and persistence. Our parents hardly ever bought us sweets; only those hard, stale, bagged cookies that tasted like sugary drywall.

But Halloween was different!  A veritable dream come true.

“Like living in Candyland!”

We’d each take a section of the living room and dump out our treasures, sifting through the piles like greedy pirates. Then we’d artfully arrange our castoffs and begin the intricate process of negotiation and exchange. Although normally quite shrewd in our transactions, we could afford to be expansive, even generous with one other.

“You can have this one and a Tootsie Roll, too!”

Halloween engendered in us feelings of prosperity and abundance, camaraderie and love, fortune and success. At least as long as the serotonin lasted.

And then it was a nightmare of  whining and whimpering, pouting and sulking, fighting and retribution that went on for days. My parents were mystified. They never made the connection between sugar and behavior.

But I do. So why would I consider allowing my children to go out collecting candy from the neighborhood like poison mushrooms?

My answer is: Because they need to learn. And because I don’t want deprive them of the thrill of going out on a dark, crisp October night with their friends. And I don’t want to issue a blanket embargo on sugar. (What good will that do, except to increase their longing for more?)

I want to introduce them to their nemesis first-hand, and show them how to defeat him.


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