When I was a kid, people in my neighborhood that wanted to hand out a healthier option on Halloween apparently had two choices: pennies or pencils. I can remember staring at those items, strewn on the carpet amongst my brightly colored loot, so out of context, I could barely understand what they were. What is this, a pencil? How’d that get in here? A penny? Weird.
Now that I have a kid who has an allergy to red food dye, though, I see things differently. Those unconventional neighbors have been recast in my mind as bold, progressive heroes in the Halloween battle against strange new allergens and high fructose corn syrup. I’ve even considered following suit—what alternative could I offer visiting children? The flimsy spider ring? The tiny box of raisins?
No, I like fun. Prohibition? That ain’t me. For kids, Halloween is pretty much about candy, with a little dress-up and staying up late thrown in for good measure. So as I often do as a parent, I turned to the co-op for help—I needed gummy bears made with plant dyes and I needed them now!
Food co-ops have come quite a distance towards meeting us halfway on our, uh, less-than-healthy cultural traditions. There are abundant options for Halloween treats and—psst—they are ridiculously good. Even I-hope-we-get-fewer-kids-than-usual good, if you know what I mean. With ingredients like organic sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, sustainable coconut and palm oils instead of trans fats, and fair trade chocolate, these treats aren’t sleeping on the job—they are accomplishing multiple goals!
I’m not kidding myself to think that any of that is necessarily healthier to eat (though I believe an argument could be made), but I do know that organic is healthier for our environment, and for the health of the people involved in making our candy, fair trade is best. In the chocolate industry, in particular, fair trade certification is the easiest way for us as shoppers to know that the cocoa beans used to make your chocolate were not farmed using unpaid child labor and other human rights abuses. Despite multiple news reports about unpaid child labor in cocoa production going back as far as 2001, the majority of chocolate we eat in the United States is still produced that way. I’m not in the business of bumming you out—so please do your own reading if you’re interested.
I am thankful that there are so many choices these days for how I spend my money; the ability to make a difference in the lives of the people in our communities and around the world that produce our food is abundant and, thanks to committed people all along the supply chain from farm to food co-op, readily available to me. Cultural holidays like Halloween knit our communities together—how great to live at a time where I can hand out candy and feel pretty good about it, too!
By Mandy Makinen of NCG Co-op