When I was in college, a study came out claiming that oat bran helped prevent cancer. Pretty soon, every food that could manage it, and a few that maybe shouldn’t, was claiming to contain oat bran. I forget how long this went on, but it was one of the first times I remember realizing how absolute many people want the idea of something being good for you to be: that if something was good for you at all, it should be good for you all the times, in all the ways.
I think we’re the same way, in the U.S. at least, about things that are bad for you: if they’re bad at all, they have to be bad in all ways, under all circumstances.
Which maybe explains why I woke up this morning to an announcement that local dentists were … collecting halloween candy from children, weighing it, and paying them to take it off their hands. Because if candy is bad for children in general, it has to be bad in an absolute way, bad every single moment, not only for kids for whom sugar is a specific health issue but for all children, all the time–and the only way of dealing with it is to turn to absolutes, for ways to cut it off entirely.
More and more I favor the idea of feast days myself, days of the year when excess is allowed, even encouraged. Letting kids gorge on Halloween candy for a couple of days seems better to me than having them grow up into adults who sneak candy regularly and with enormous amounts of guilt, and ultimately probably eat more of it than if they allowed themselves to openly celebrate and enjoy it on occasion.
But that seems to scare us, in this society where we’ve turned eating a brownie or piece of pie into a sort of moral decision, as if should we allow ourselves to let go at all, even once in a great while, there’ll be no turning back and we’ll go crazy and never do anything but let ourselves go. Maybe this is true if we live a life where we’re always so completely in denial mode that when we dare let anything that isn’t denial in, we don’t know how to turn back afterwards.
Better to allow ourselves that occasional celebration, I think, both because celebration days–even, yes, food-based celebration days–are good for us, in and of themselves, and because then we learn how to make celebrations part of a larger life in which of course we aren’t celebrating every day. Halloween candy is fun for children because it’s not how everyday life works.
So I guess this is a call for enjoying that Halloween candy (and while we’re at it, Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas dinner, Passover seder, etc, etc, etc) without guilt. It’s the thing as a whole that matters, and the thing as a whole doesn’t require being in guard or holding to the same standard every single breathing moment.
At the very least, maybe we can learn not to take this sort of moralism out on our children, who aren’t going to be harmed by being allowed to kick back and enjoy their haul of candy for a few days out of a much larger year.