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In his book, Candyfreak, author Steve Almond notes that, “we may not understand why we freak on a particular food or band or sports team.” The reasons people are drawn to candy can vary from person to person, and often “our most sacred fears and desires” could be seen as the impetus to reach deep inside us to placate or fulfill them. On a fundamental level, candy with bright colors attracted me as a child and ultimately became the focus of the photographs depicted in Sweet Tooth.

Good and Plenty, Sweet Tooth Series, 2014-2016
Good and Plenty, Sweet Tooth Series, 2014-2016

Since the modernization of candy began in the 19th century, it continues to draw adults and kids to its unrestrained sweetness and promise of a satisfying instant high; the colorful, affordable and portable nature of candy crowns this attraction.

Candy allows for an emotional connection that enables us to feel good through moments of sadness or even despair, and has become a mainstay in our lives often through cultural, traditional and ritualistic means.

Compounded by the rise of junk food in the 1950s and globalization in the recent decades, the growing demand for sweets granted candy a universal status with children. These changes have given license to candy manufacturers, small and large, to consider and ultimately adulterate candy production via synthetic dyes and other artificial ingredients.

The advent of the television era, the booming power of advertising, and the technological developments in areas of industrial processing, packaging and logistics have augmented the commercial appeal of this response by highlighting the reduced production costs and improvement in the aesthetic effects of artificial ingredients in the product and on the consumer.

Current trends in healthy lifestyle and eating have placed candy on the periphery of the list of foods for most people. How often does one actually put down candy as part of their grocery list of items? Some of these trends have been building up since the 1970s, when Allura Red Dye and other synthetic dyes were linked to causes of ADHD-like behavior in children. Europe took action and banned certain dyes, however the United States still persists, leading to questions being raised regarding health related issues by concerned parents and other customers.

Nestlé Butterfinger Bites Ingredients
Nestlé Butterfinger Bites Ingredients

The harmful effects of synthetic dyes remains debatable; a topic that is further mired in speculation when the Food and Drug Administration lacks conviction in the results of clinical tests of synthetic dyes. The candy manufacturers though remain free from responsibility to facilitate a full on move to all things natural.

How long, and how far, are candy manufacturers willing to carry on this way, may depend on consumer reaction and profit generated from their latest ventures. For example, in 2016, Nestlé took the first step with their Butterfinger product line by substituting the synthetic Red #5 and Yellow #40 with Annatto, a reddish pulp derivative of the Achiote Tree that is believed to have originated from Brazil­. This could be seen as a smart move, or a small olive branch being extended, that leaves the ball in the consumer’s court. Perhaps there is sense in producing natural dye-based candy that appeal to a certain demographic that Nestlé sees enough of a financial gain to cater to this commercial venture.

It’s tempting to chalk this venture up as a victory for the naysayers in us all, but does it bring us closer to being responsible consumers that we could strive to be? How much of our health and our children’s health are we really concerned with, that would reduce and ultimately eliminate our demand for candy?

In an era of ever-increasing demand for more mundane and useless goods, where does candy really fit into the grand scheme of consumerism? Would the onset of aging reduce our craving for certain types of candy, or candy altogether?

LemonHead, Sweet Tooth Series, 2014-2016
LemonHead, Sweet Tooth Series, 2014-2016

Certainly the increase in risk of health concerns may see a decline in consumption of candy, much less candy laced with crude oil derivatives. There are other notions worth considering: the dwindling palatable interest for popular candy since the U-turn from junk food and snacks in the 1990s, or simply outgrowing childhood cravings of certain types of candy, that may no longer be sold or manufactured.

We can begin to wonder about such notions, while synthetic dyes continue to be engineered to make them brighter in color and more durable—rendering them indistinguishable to natural colors—thus boasting a hyperreal quality.

This dedication to scientific improvement may be attractive to some consumers and edging closer to a kind of ‘simulation’ that the French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, referred to in his treatise, Simulacra and Simulacrum.

For those who marvel at the advancement of progress, the imitation of color using synthetic dyes in candy is not too far off in trying to achieve the perfect ‘simulacra’, or copy, of the original natural dye, even if it is devoid of any health benefit.

Have you obsessed over candy or had a fondness for a particular type or brand of candy in your life? What about your kids? Let me know in the comments below.

View the rest of my Sweet Tooth project.

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