Friday, April 10, 2009

To Steve Almond: A Rebuttal

About five or so years ago, Mr. Almond wrote a book called Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. It was well-received, and the man became known as chief arbiter of taste for all things nougat-filled, caramel-injected, or sugar-coated. And with good reason: He begins the tome with the admission, both enviable and worrisome, that "[t]he author has eaten a piece of candy every single day of his entire life." Almond knows his material. And the story itself, part-memoir, part-literary journalism, is great fun: If you've ever desired intimate knowledge of someone else's oral cavity (and who hasn't?), you will find it here.

The narrative hinges on the author's investigation into the increasing amount of small candy factories being shut down by that other Big Three--Nestles, Hersheys, and Mars. The book is a tribute to these providers not only of flavor but of regional identity. Without their Twin Bing, older Idahoans will have lost a pathway to their youth, with nothing but the same five chocolate bars, from Seattle to South Beach, as available succor. Without the GooGoo Cluster, southerners would have to bond over something messier, like barbeque or a shared embarrassment over their glacial-thaw realization that slavery was a bad idea. Candy, Almond points out, is not merely for hyperactive children. It delivers solace. It brings companies billions. Whether personal or multi-corporational, it is a force, and as such deserves to be talked about.

There is one section that I do take umbrage with, and it is the subject of my titular rebuttal. (Which is also a good name for a Pam Anderson biopic.) On page 25 of the paperback copy, for three and a half pages, Almond lists and denounces those candies he does not see fit to eat; moreover, he eviscerates them, writing, "when I disapprove of a candy, the sentiment often veers into wrath." He titles this section Mistakes Were Made. Yes, Mr. Almond. Yes they were.

He begins with an inquiry into the red licorice straws' popularity, describing its texture as "fall[ing] somewhere between chitin and rain poncho." Chitin, by the way, is the hard, glossy material that makes up the exoskeleton of certain insects. I admire the description: tangible, surprising. And honestly, I can see what he means. Just because it may feel like I'm gnawing on an ant's molted torso doesn't mean that Twizzlers aren't completely satisfying. Embrace that plasticity; Derive pleasure from the slow release of artificial strawberry flavor from the chewed upon rippled stalks. I believe Almond's error was one of mastication strategy. In order to unleash the Twizzler's full potential, you must keep the single straw whole for as long as possible. Place one bite's worth of Twizzler in your mouth, but do not sever! Nibble the edges. Employ some light suction. As the bite lingers, it will dissolve, ever so slowly, transmogrifying from that tough, bendy rope into something else altogether, with a nuanced, developing flavor and, dare I say, subtle hints of ambrosia.

*White Chocolate
Almond describes a cross-country flight where, after scarfing down a white-chocolate lollipop, he threw up profusely. Vomiting, he writes, struck him as a proper response to this product which, truthfully, is not even chocolate, having not an ounce of cocoa. He makes a valid point. White Chocolate should not, in fact, be called 'White Chocolate.' It should be named something more representative. May I suggest a few ideas: Tongue Beauty Cream; Heavensent Yummy Yum; Milky Superness; Deliciousosity; The Edible Incarnation of Kathy Ireland, circa 1994.

*Marshmallow Peeps
(Otherwise known as, the greatest recombinant of sugar and sugar since that one fateful night with the Sugar twins of Beverly Heights.)
Our author dismisses Peeps for "encourag[ing] the notion that it is acceptable to eat child offspring." He notes the "piss yellow" color of the original. But look beyond the weird carnivoristic subtext. Grab a box of the brand new Green Peeps if you must. They come in rows of five, each baby chick attached at the malformed hip. Take the end one. Bite off the side-wing first. Relish the extra sugar, as the middle three will not be privy to such things. Then take out the head; no need for those beady food coloring eyes to stare longer than necessary. Consider this an act of mercy. Finish off the torso in two small bites or one, depending. It is the marshmallow you can eat whole while remaining socially accepted. Since bags of Jet-Puffed mallows became ubiquitous, you've yearned to eat them unadorned with melty chocolate or crumbled graham. The Peep is your permission slip, your gateway to anaphalactic bliss.
Whole or in bites; Fresh or stale: Truly, a Peep's house has many mansions. When microwaved, they bloom up to four times their size. Its granulated membrane barely contains the ooey goodness within, now warm and deflating, the very act itself mirroring our own growth and subsequent decay. Leave them out and their skin hardens. These are no Twinkee anomalies, immortal and ever-lasting. Peeps do expire with time. But be patient, for next spring those pliant chicks will rise again, fresh and puffy and new, waiting to abscond with our past candy-eating sins.

I hope I've made clear my position on Mr. Almond's rash judgments. He also disavows coconut and Lime LifeSavers, among others, but those will have to wait. I just opened a package from home filled with Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Vanilla Cream Chocolate Eggs, and, of course, Marshmallow Peeps. We're about to get down with some serious self-consecration...


Aaron said...

I agree. Almond's opinion on Peeps is crap and you've rebutted him soundly.

Also, I added a link to this post to a post I did about Peeps with links the best Peeps places on the web. Check it out.

Anonymous said...

At least it's good to know that the peep community is alive and well. As for twizzlers the problem lies in the brand. Twizzlers are like the UNOs chain version of the original - the boone's farm equivalent to the general public. Red vines are for the true connoisseur. (for best results allow to age in a dark, dank cabinet for 6-9 months.)


Jamie said...

"Rippled stalks" and "mastication strategy;" I enjoy these phrases.

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