Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America

Almond, Steve

Published by Algonquin Books, 2004
ISBN 10: 1565124219 / ISBN 13: 9781565124219
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Synopsis: Perhaps you remember the whipped splendor of the Choco-Lite, or the luscious Caravelle bar, or maybe the sublime and perfectly balanced Hershey's Cookies 'n Mint. The Marathon, an inimitable rope of caramel covered in chocolate. Oompahs. Bit-O-Choc. The Kit Kat Dark.

Steve Almond certainly does. In fact, he was so obsessed by the inexplicable disappearance of these bars—where'd they go?—that he embarked on a nationwide journey to uncover the truth about the candy business. There, he found an industry ruled by huge conglomerates, where the little guys, the last remaining link to the glorious boom years of the candy bar in America, struggle to survive.

Visiting the candy factories that produce the Twin Bing, the Idaho Spud, the Goo Goo Cluster, the Valomilk, and a dozen other quirky bars, Almond finds that the world of candy is no longer a sweet haven. Today's precious few regional candy makers mount daily battles against corporate greed, paranoia, and that good old American compulsion: crushing the little guy.

Part candy porn, part candy polemic, part social history, part confession, Candyfreak explores the role candy plays in our lives as both source of pleasure and escape from pain. By turns ecstatic, comic, and bittersweet, Candyfreak is the story of how Steve Almond grew up on candy—and how, for better and worse, candy has grown up, too.

Review: Picture a magical, sugar-fueled road trip with Willy Wonka behind the wheel and David Sedaris riding shotgun, complete with chocolate-stained roadmaps and the colorful confetti of spent candy wrappers flying in your cocoa powder dust. If you can imagine such a manic journey--better yet, if you can imagine being a hungry hitchhiker who's swept through America's forgotten candy meccas: Philadelphia (Peanut Chews), Sioux City (Twin Bing), Nashville (Goo Goo Cluster), Boise (Idaho Spud) and beyond--then Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, Steve Almond's impossible-to-put down portrait of regional candy makers and the author's own obsession with all-things sweet, would be your Fodor's guide to this gonzo tour.

With the aptly named Almond (don't even think of bringing up the Almond Joy bit--coconut is Almond's kryptonite), obsession is putting it mildly. Almond loves candy like no other man in America. To wit: the author has "three to seven pounds" of candy in his house at all times. And then there's the Kit Kat Darks incident; Almond has a case of the short-lived confection squirreled away in an undisclosed warehouse. "I had decided to write about candy because I assumed it would be fun and frivolous and distracting," confesses Almond. "It would allow me to reconnect to the single, untarnished pleasure of my childhood. But, of course, there are no untarnished pleasures. That is only something the admen of our time would like us to believe." Almond's bittersweet nostalgia is balanced by a fiercely independent spirit--the same underdog quality on display by the small candy makers whose entire existence (and livelihood) is forever shadowed by the Big Three: Hershey's, Mars, and Nestle.

Almond possesses an original, heartfelt, passionate voice; a writer brave enough to express sheer joy. Early on his tour he becomes entranced with that candy factory staple, the "enrober"--imagine an industrial-size version of the glaze waterfall on the production line at your local Krispy Kreme, but oozing chocolate--dubbing it "the money shot of candy production." And while he writes about candy with the sensibilities of a serious food critic (complimenting his beloved Kit Kat Dark for its "dignified sheen," "puddinglike creaminess," "coffee overtones," and "slightly cloying wafer") words like "nutmeats" and "rack fees" send him into an adolescent twitter.

...the Marathon Bar, which stormed the racks in 1974, enjoyed a meteoric rise, died young, and left a beautiful corpse. The Marathon: a rope of caramel covered in chocolate, not even a solid piece that is, half air holes, an obvious rip-off to anyone who has mastered the basic Piagetian stages, but we couldn't resist the gimmick. And then, as if we weren't bamboozled enough, there was the sleek red package, which included a ruler on the back and thereby affirmed the First Rule of Male Adolescence: If you give a teenage boy a candy bar with a ruler on the back of the package, he will measure his dick

Candyfreak is one of those endearing, quirky titles that defy swift categorization. One of those rare books that you'll want to tear right through, one you won't soon stop talking about. And eager readers beware: It's impossible to flip through ten pages of this sweet little book without reaching for a piece of chocolate. --Brad Thomas Parsons

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Title: Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate ...
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication Date: 2004
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Good

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