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Candyfreak: A Journey Through The Chocolate Underbelly Of America (2005)

Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America (2005)

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3.76 of 5 Votes: 4
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0156032937 (ISBN13: 9780156032933)
mariner books

About book Candyfreak: A Journey Through The Chocolate Underbelly Of America (2005)

I applaud myself on having consumed only two candy bars during the process of reading this book. However, seeing as I read this book mostly over the course of a single day, that may not be something to brag about. I advise you to read this book while at a very safe distance from any candy sources, because I was sitting next to an enormous candy display in a bookstore and could not resist the purchase of a pack of turtles, which I had just read about, the 5th Avenue, which Almond mentions in passion early in the book, and the Take 5, which just looked delicious in a so-bad-it's-good kind of way.In all seriousness, this was a highly interesting look at the candy industry. Almond writes about the business side of things in an easy-to-consume (punintentional) way that keeps things interesting (and alarming, of course) without getting preachy or really taking sides (except with the political thing, which I appreciated). In fact, despite the general light tone of this book, the parts that most stuck out to me were the serious parts - the portrait of his cotravelers on the bus from Sioux City to Kansas City and his description of "what America really looks like". If you want to see this, he advises you take the bus, because "the only people in airports are rich people." I cannot help but support his theory; the analogous city situation is cabs/private cars vs the public bus. I was similarly touched by his rant against Bush the second. His summary of the election followed by 9/11 and its aftermath - in four tidy sentences - is one of the best summaries I've read. And his new view, with the help of one president of a candy company, of the evils of Walmart is also eye-opening: you know it's evil but you still don't know every way in which its evil.Maybe the fact that I read this after a weekend in South Bend, Indiana helped, but reading this book gave me a very deep appreciation for the simplicity with which we can get a product on the shelves of our local supermarkets in Portland, that their is such a strong market for the strong and the independent, that chains have at least slightly less influence in my hometown than they do in the rest of the country, as well as real hope that the growing presence of this trend in other big cities indicates a growing movement away from the mega-corporations.One can hope.But back to candy: this is a wonderful tribute to obsessions and sweet tooths, a hilarious romanticization of the type of candy that I would generally consider mediocre - but which, as previously mentioned, while reading, I couldn't help but purchase a few for my own consumption. It also reminded me vaguely of the book Lost Cosmonaut, with its comedic style tinged with a real heavy-heartedness, a real sadness about the actual state of things, but which, somewhat masterfully, does not affect the overall flavor of the book to strongly.I'm also incredibly relieved to know that someone in Idaho is making chocolate covered potato chips and would like to see those more regularly. And not the Trader Joe's variety - the chocolate is far too thick on those.

I didn’t set out to read this book in particular, but last week, Garageman called me to his office (i.e. the garage) to listen to an interview on sports talk. You can imagine my total joy. As I listened to this very articulate and entertaining man talk about the book he had just written on football and why he both loves and loathes it, I became entranced. I decided to find his name (Garageman couldn’t remember) and the book (he couldn’t remember that either. At the end of the program, he did remember that maybe the guys last name was Allman and 10 years ago or so, he wrote about all about candy, and his trip across America to small, family owned and run manufacturers and how the big three were slowing killing them off.Eureka! I had that book! I started reading it, and for some reason never finished, so I did a little research and dug it out. (I also purchased Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto for later.)Candyfreak made me squeal with delight, shake my head yes in knowing sympathy, and made my stomach pine and mouth water for all those pieces of sugary goodness that were mostly regional, and that are long gone, or very hard to find. It delves into the disgusting practices of the big three and how they pay retailers huge fees to stock only their goods, pricing mom and pop manufacturers out. It led to discussions between Garageman and I about the lack of new candy and limited twists on the old, pathetic as they are, at least it’s something new.I was thrilled to find my favorite hometown candy with its own chapter - Valomilk, and to this day it pisses me off greatly, that in order to buy a hometown made candy, I have to go to Cracker Barrel because of the stocking fees charged by grocery stores and encouraged by the big three. I admit, for a long, long time, I was an M&M freak, but the minute I started watching NASCAR and saw that Mars sponsored a driver who must remain nameless in my household, I banned all Mars candy from crossing my threshold. I still allow Nestle and Hershey, but no Mars products, since I protest not with signs and marches, but by withholding my dollars.Anyway, back to the book. It made me long for the days of Mary Janes, rock candy, root beer barrels, peanut clusters, buttons, wax fingers, and all those wonderful penny delights of my childhood. Thanks to Mr. Almond’s Freak Appendix, I now have websites to connect with certain candy fetishes, and I recently found The Vermont Country Store, who sells many of these same delights. I’d give the book five thumbs up, but he said nicer things about other candy makers than he did Russell Sifers who makes Valomilks. In my book, that makes Mr. Almond slightly suspicious.

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From the book, page sixteen:Every now and then, I’ll run into someone who claims not to like chocolate or other sweets, and while we live in a country where everyone has the right to eat what they want, I want to say for the record that I don’t trust these people, that I think something is wrong with them, and that they’re probably-this must be said-total duds in bed.Candyfreak provides way too much candy-metaphor fodder for the weak-hearted reviewer. I don’t know I can resist saying things like “the writing pulses as if Almond (of course, Almond…) were a five year old on a sugar high” or “the vivid descriptions of the nuances of biting into different candy bars sent me running to the candy store” (entirely true, by the way). So I will not resist. I’ll surrender to the flow like a log of caramel on the conveyer belt through the chocolate enrobing machine.This book functions both as tribute to the small businessman and candyfetish pornography. Almond’s travels lead him through the factories of one-building companies struggling to survive in the shadow of the candy world’s “big three” (Nestle, Hershey, Mars). He chronicles a fading world of beautiful machines churning out regional candy bars that maybe, just maybe, you’ll find on the less desirable candy rack real estate (if you’re lucky) but not in mainstream locations or near eye-level because the company owners can’t shell out the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to place their products in the big stores. The spirit of invention lives in these factory owners as well; when they talk about product development they sound insane, honestly, in the best way possible, as if they can taste the new candy before they produce the first sample.Almond stumbles a little when he stereotypes small town living (sir, I defy you to get on a Greyhound bus anywhere, even in your precious Boston, and find anything different than you describe. It’s not like the Bostonians on Greyhound are wearing cardigans and reading Kant.) and he slips into “I’m a successful author but pity my pathetic personal life” territory more often than he should. Still, reading Candyfreak is flat-out fun, the kind of experience that raises your pulse a little when you pick up the book, like you’re about to do something you want to do after a long day of the opposite. Almond’s descriptive powers and childlike passion carry the day. And candy bars that look like potatoes sound cool. I want one right now.Epilogue: I would say I’d read more Almond, but I realized after I read Candyfreak that I had once picked up his Not That You Asked at the library and put it back after reading the first few pages. So, in full disclosure, the jury’s still out on Almond the author, but Candyfreak (pop) rocks.

From a blog post in 2005:What a fun and interesting read! The full title is Candyfreak - A Journey Through The Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond The author is a self-avowed candy addict and traces his addiction back to a childhood need for affection. His anecdotes about his childhood candy habits (hording, sorting and classifying candy as well as his Halloween strategy) and bonding with his Father (The Enabler) via candy bars are hilarious, touching and sometimes a bit sad. The main focus of the book, however, is on the small candy producers who are being pushed out by Hershey, Mars and Nestle. He visited several companies who only sell regionally because of the huge cost of national distribution. Some chains require a candy company to pay $20,000 per store in slotting fees (a charge to place the product in the store) and the firms he visited can't afford it. Even local placement is going by the wayside as Wal-Mart pushes out the little grocery stores across America. Here's a partial list of the candy bars he saw made: Valomilk, Idaho Spud, Goo Goo Cluster, Old Faithful, Twin Bing, Peanut Chews and Five Star Bars. I've never heard of any of them but it sounds like they may be found at your nearby Cracker Barrel. I'll have to look next time I'm at one. Almond's style is humorously self-deprecating - sort of a kindler, gentler version of David Sedaris (without the gay overtones). He seamlessly mixes personal anecdotes with interesting historical material and his descriptions of the candy making process border on poetry. I only wish I could be half as descriptive! For more on Almond, see his website:

I read this one forever ago, so I don't remember it very well right now. The three things I remember most: 1. It was hilarious. 2. I couldn't recommend it to anyone because of some super inappropriate sexual content (I don't actually even remember much of what it was anymore; I just remember thinking it was a shame I couldn't recommend it).3. His intense description of Five Star Bars (by Lake Champlain Chocolates) was sooo delicious that I had to buy some for myself (they were, indeed, quite yummy--but probably not quite worth the shipping we paid to get them to us, except just for fun to try them). (I would keep buying them occasionally if they were sold near me.)The author's descriptions of candy, and just his intriguing look into the world of candy-making, was quite fun. I would have given it 4 stars if not for the inability to suggest it as a read.Here's a brief excerpt that made me laugh:"To me, Twizzlers belongs to the same loathsome genus as the Jujubes. The young and fortunate reader may not have heard of Jujubes, and this candy will be hard to describe in a fashion that makes it sounds suitable for human consumption. They were basically hard pellets the size and shape of pencil erasers. Indeed, if one were to set Jujubes beside pencil erasers in a blind taste test, it would be tough to make a distinction, except that pencil erasers have more natural fruit flavor.These are two examples of candies I refer to as MWMs (Mistakes Were Made). Others would include:Marshmallow Peeps: A candy that encourages the notion that it is acceptable to eat child offspring. ...Boston Baked Beans: If you are an actual peanut, why are you not covered in chocolate? Why are you covered, instead, in some ind of burnt-tasting brick red shell? ...Chuckles: A fruit jelly the consistency of cartilage. Explain.Sixlets: Those of us over the age of, say, three can usually differentiate between chocolate and brown wax.White jelly beans: I defy you to tell me what flavor white is supposed to signify. Pineapple? Coconut? Isopropyl? ...Coconut: ... Oddly, it isn't the flavor of coconut that troubles me, but the texture. ... In short, I feel as if I'm chewing on a sweetened cuticle." (p. 35-36)Anyway, funny, intriguing, but occasionally rather inappropriate.

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