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Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate…

Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America

by Steve Almond

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1,1675711,543 (3.78)60
Perhaps you remember The Marathon, Oompahs, Bit-O-Choc, or Kit Kat Dark. Where did they go? Driven by his obsession, stubborn idealism, and the promise of free candy, self-confessed candyfreak Steve Almond takes off on a quest to discover candy's origins in America, to explore little companies that continue to get by on pluck and perseverance, and to witness the glorious excess of candy manufacturing. 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.… (more)
  1. 10
    Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (Alliebadger)
    Alliebadger: Both of these are similar in that they explore the seedy underbelly of their respective food industries: candy and fast food. They are both witty and informative (and they definitely make you want to eat something).
  2. 00
    The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars by Joël Glenn Brenner (caitlinlizzy)

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» See also 60 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
Almond reports on his quest to tour small business candy factories and interview their owners while at the same time chronicling his own life-long obsession with candy. So it's part microhistory and part autobiography, as he narrates his childhood love of chocolate bars, his struggles with depression, and his reactions to the political happenings concurrent with his candy-tour travels.
I have mixed feelings about this one. I loved the history of candy in America and the descriptions of the factories and how the candies are made. I also really enjoyed Almond's self-deprecating and sometimes downright goofy sense of humor. What didn't work so well for me was the way he approached the topic of his own bouts of depression, his childhood (which he sometimes seems to describe as awful and lonely and at others as really not...), and his current loneliness, which he chalks up to being bad at relationships. He tries to tie the personal stuff to the candy stuff with the notion that candy was and is his one source of comfort and happiness, but the link seems awkward and forced in places; it feels like this should be two separate books, mostly because there is an inconsistency not only in the topics but in the tone as well. When he slides into talk of his own misery, the goofiness slides off the self-deprecation and everything gets...awkward. ( )
  electrascaife | Apr 29, 2020 |
I thought I might be getting Godiva but got cheap chocolate instead. Candy lover and perhaps aptly named Steve Almond takes the reader on a journey about candy: the history of candy's rise in the US, how it's made, what he likes and why he loves candy so. It sounds like an awesome story, right?
Wrong. The book is a slap-dash mix of childhood reminiscing, descriptions of how candies are made (right down to what goes on in factories), what happens when candies disappear and why candies are so popular. He travels around the US and talks to various candy people (from PR people to the person behind candydirect.com to people who are "chocolate engineers).
Unfortunately the book can't decide what it wants to be: his personal memoirs about his love for candy or a look inside the candy industry. Some of his stories about why he enjoys candy and its emotional connections for him (particularly the memories of his father) are nice and help set the page. But we occasionally get treated to occasionally really strange off-topic digressions from politics to the last time he meets his grandfather (who dies sometime during the creating of this book). If Almond had simply stuck with ONE topic it would have been so much better.
I also came across a line that made me very uncomfortable. He meets yet another employee at another candy manufacturing facility and Almond tastes the candy sample. The employee explains what it is and offers Almond another. He writes he wanted to say "Take me home and love me long time, GI."
Almond writes that it was the post WW is when candy became very popular in the US, and were often associated with returning soldiers. But the employee offered the author a piece of candy standing in the middle of a factory during a visit, not in the aftermath of a war. I may be reading too much into that single line, but like much of the book it really doesn't fit in with the rest of the text and came across as creepy.
I haven't read too much about this particular industry, and the author does mention a now out-of-print book: "The Emperors of Chocolate." I suspect that tome will be much better than this. Would not recommend it unless you're a little older and may remember some of the candies he mentions. Browse at the library first. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
How writer Steve Almond has stayed trim and avoided becoming a diabetic is a complete mystery. He's been living on a steady diet of candy since childhood. This is his candy eating memoir and an exploration of the history and business of candy making in America. This book caused me to mail order a box of butter rum rolled life savers from Canada since I can't find them in the states anymore. Bring your sweet tooth and enjoy. ( )
  varielle | Jun 23, 2017 |
In Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America author Steve Almond tells us three important facts in the prologue:
1. The author has eaten a piece of candy every single day of his entire life. (pg 1)
2. The author thinks about candy at least once an hour. (pg 3)
3. The author has between three and seven pounds of candy in his house at all times. (pg 6)
Almond also admits he has a stash of 14 boxes of Kit Kat Limited Edition Dark in a warehouse as well as other secret stashes of candy in case of an emergency.

Obviously Almond has established his candy street creds to be the self-titled candyfreak, although he admits:
"I am not blind to the hypocrisy of my conduct, nor to the slightly pathetic aspects of my freakdom. I am, after all, in my mid-thirties, suffering from severe balding anxiety and lowerback pain. I am not exactly the target demographic." (pg 8)
Besides being a candyfreak, Almond began to reminisce about favorite candy bars that were no longer made, the Caravelle, or candy he had when he lived in California that is not available in Massachusetts. This lead him to investigate some of the independent candy companies that are still in business. He met the owners, toured the factories, saw the steps they took to make their candy, and, naturally, received numerous free samples. His visits include trips to: Dorchester, Massachusetts where Necco wafers and candy hearts are made; Burlington, Vermont and the Five Star Bar; Sioux City, Iowa's Palmer Candy, maker of the Twin Cherry Bing; Kansas City's Sifers' Valomilk, Boise, Idaho's Idaho Candy Company, maker of the Idaho Spud; and California's Annabelle Candy Company, maker of the Big Hunk, U-no, and Abba-Zaba.

Almond also interviews some other interesting characters. Steve Traino, another candyfreak, buys and sells discontinued items online on the nostalgia market. Ray Broekel, who wrote two books on the history of candy bars has a collection of memorabilia and is the industry's historian. The history of the candy bar is also the history of the big three: Hershey, Mars, and Nestle. Their power has greatly endangered the local independent candy makers - that and the cost to have your product displayed on store shelves, slotting fees, which are ridiculously high.

I found Candyfreak wildly entertaining. Almond was hilarious at times. His genuine interest in candy and how it is made as he describes the candy-making process at various factories was palpable and palatable. If there was one drawback to Candyfreak it was that the tours of the factories, while focusing on different products, also seemed to be very similar experiences.
I very highly recommend Candyfreak



Every now and again, 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. Page 16

I suppose I was aware, in an abstract way, that there were men and women upon this earth who served in this capacity, as chocolate engineers. In the same way that I was aware that there are job titles out there such as bacon taster and sex surrogate, which is to say, job titles that made me want to weep over my own appointed lot in life. But I had never considered the prospect of visiting a chocolate engineer. I could think of nothing else for days. Page 103

“What you’re eating,” Dave said, “is a dried cherry, infused with raspberry and covered in a Select Origin 75 percent dark chocolate.” He held out the bag. “Have another.”
Here is what I wanted to say to Dave Bolton at that precise moment: Take me home and love me long time, GI.“ Page 104

In some sense, though, this decadence is a return to the pre-Columbian days of cocoa, when the bean was viewed as a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl and considered the domain of royalty. Five hundred years later, Theobroma cacao (literally: food of the gods) remains the single most complex natural flavor in the world. Flavorists have been trying to reproduce the taste for decades—and they’re nowhere near doing so. This is because chocolate is made up of more than 1,200 chemical components, many of which give off distinct notes, of honey or roses or even spoiled fish. There’s even one chemical in chocolate that’s cyanide-based. This is to say nothing of chocolate’s oft-touted psychoactive ingredients, which include caffeine, theobromine (increases alertness), phenylalanine and phenylethylamine (both known to induce happiness), and anandamide, which is similar to THC (yes, stoners, that THC). In truth, most of the brouhaha over these chemicals is trumped up. They only occur in trace amounts. The main reason chocolate is the ultimate physiological freak is because it’s half sugar and half fat. Page 107

I will leave it to the reader to determine just what sort of “diet” would encourage the consumption of these ingredients, though it bears mentioning that this product is but one in a tsunami of pseudo–candy bars, variously called PowerBars, Granola bars, Energy Bars, Clif Bars, Breakfast Bars, Snack Bars, Wellness Bars, and so on, all of which contain roughly the same sugar and fat as an actual candy bar—with perhaps a dash of protein sawdust thrown in—but only half the guilt, and stand as a monument both to shameless marketing and the American capacity for self-delusion, particularly in matters related to consumption (see also: frozen yogurt, fat-free chips, and low-calorie lard). Page 135

Most of our escape routes are also powerful reminders; and whatever our conscious motives might be, in our secret hearts we wish to be led back into our grief. Page 250

( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
Sounds like a frivolous kind of book, right? It was far more substantial than I expected. I came out of it with a soft spot for local, small-time candy manufacturers, a burning desire to tour a real-life candy factory, and a taste for picking up unusual candies in random places. (Who would have guessed that I'd find my first Idaho Spud -- featured fairly prominently in this book -- at a tiny grocery store in the equally tiny town of Delta Junction, Alaska?) ( )
  BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
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See, only a chocolate Jesus will satisfy my soul. ~ Tom Waits
To Don Ricci Almond, a freak of unparalleled wisdom and sweetness. I love you, Pop.
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I. The author has eaten a piece of candy every single day of his entire life.

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This funny book documents a candy addict's journey to the few surviving small candy factories in the U.S. It makes you want to run out and get the candy he writes about...which is not easy to come by. He explains that stores (whether grocery or convenience) charge big bucks for the honor of having candy displayed....so small companies can't compete with the big candy companies like Hershey or Mars. Who knew?
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