Taking the Trick out of the Treat | Senior Focus | Max Greenberg | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

Senior Focus

By Max Greenberg

E-mail Max Greenberg

About this blog: I developed a special interest in helping seniors with their challenges and transitions when my dad had a stroke and I helped him through all the various stages of downsizing, packing, moving and finding an assisted living communi...  (More)

View all posts from Max Greenberg

Taking the Trick out of the Treat

Uploaded: Oct 13, 2014
I guess it's a sure sign of getting older and crotchety, but something really bothers me when I walk into the local supermarket (which shall remain nameless, except it's in Midtown on Middlefield) and smack dab right in front of the door is a free-standing island the size of Greenland, made of sugar. Of course it's not just mounds of the white stuff all by itself. It's cleverly disguised in multi-colored wrappers with all-time favorite brand names, and mixed in with a whole lot of nostalgia and ingredients to give each its own unique look, feel and taste. Here's the ingredients list of a fan favorite, Snickers Bars: MILK CHOCOLATE (SUGAR, COCOA BUTTER, CHOCOLATE, SKIM MILK, LACTOSE, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR), PEANUTS, CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, MILKFAT, SKIM MILK, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, LACTOSE, SALT, EGG WHITES,CHOCOLATE, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR. ALLERGY INFORMATION: MAY CONTAIN ALMONDS.

Now we know that sugar and all this candy are totally legal substances and companies are free to make this stuff, market and sell it (they are also free to sell cigarettes and alcohol, with some minor restrictions attached. Plus grow and sell medical MJ and eventually the non-medical stuff.) But there is a raging epidemic of obesity and diabetes which starts with kids and often sets people on an unhealthy path throughout their lives. It's kind of cruel to introduce our children to sugar and sweeteners and then play this punishment-reward game with them which only increases their desire for the sweet stuff.

Maybe it's a small step but would it be unreasonable to ask our local stores to forego the massive prominent display of their sugar delivery systems for that entire month before Halloween? This will not discourage folks from giving the trick or treaters a little treat when they ring the bell. But maybe it'll start folks thinking about something else they could give the little ghosts and goblins instead of plain old candy. Something that will take the trick out of the treat maybe?
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by RW, a resident of another community,
on Oct 14, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Can you explain what you mean by "It's kind of cruel to introduce our children to sugar and sweeteners and then play this punishment-reward game with them which only increases their desire for the sweet stuff." What's the punishment-reward game? Trick or treating?

To play devils advocate, it's not the stores job to make my family eat healthy. Have they replaced all the apples and bananas with candy? No. Are they putting candy in my cart for me? No. Candy has been tradition at Halloween for decades, this isn't new. Candy at Halloween isn't a primary cause of obesity, it just isn't.

Yes, the prominent displays are tempting. But so are the everyday displays of donuts and redvines and chocolate.

Posted by Max Greenerg, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 14, 2014 at 1:21 pm

RW, thanks for your comment. The "punishment-reward game" is the way sweets are generally used to reward good behavior ie. If you do all your homework, or clean up your room, or stop screaming in the supermarket (ugh) then you get a cookie or ice-cream etc. If we could just keep it to the occasional reward for "good" behavior that would be fine (not including the screaming). But it adds to the development of the craving for sugar which once it gets started is so hard to stop. The punishment part, with-holding sweet desserts for example if they don't act a certain way ("no dessert tonight...") feeds into the sugar-craving brain trying to figure out the easiest way to get the fix it needs. Stealing and hoarding candy is the "easy way" as far as that brain is concerned. You are right that the store's job is not to make our families eat healthy. That is totally on us. But the problem with Halloween is that kids are getting a super charge dose of the drug and this puts their body and brains into an unbalanced state until the fix wears off. Clever trick or treaters can hoard their sugar for days. There really is nothing like that island of sugar that shows up once a year, and tradition or not, it's unhealthy on many levels and I question whether our stores should be purveyors of such a well known harmful substance. Lot's of things are traditionally perpetuated that have harmful effects. And raising a population of obese and diabetic children is unfortunately becoming a "new tradition" here in the US. I think it's ok to examine them, once in a while.

Posted by candice, a resident of Green Acres,
on Oct 14, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Max - lighten up, everyone wants to strip todays kids of all the fun and enjoyment of what it means to be a kid.
if you choose not to partake so be it - give out stickers, apples, turn out your lights and ignore the bell - whatever - no one is forcing you to buy and give out sugary sweets.

Posted by Max Greenberg, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 14, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Candice: Well stated.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 14, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Thank you. Another person who thinks like myself.

Stickers, pencils, be imaginative and let's get rid of too much candy. If it was just what they get by going Trick or Treating, it wouldn't be too bad, but we have a couple of weeks of this everywhere we go. At school, harvest fairs, parties, soccer treats, the list goes on and on.

Saw a picture of some really ghoulish fingers made with asparagus and almonds for fingernails, and some spiders made of julienned vegetables and black food dye.

Posted by MV Resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Oct 14, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Candice is right.

No one is pointing a gun at your head telling you to buy this junk and dump it into kids' treat bags. You could hand out cards (printed with soy-based inks on recycled paper, of course) that say "In lieu of a treat, we will donate $1 to [insert preferred charity] in your honor."

Heck, you don't even have to participate in Halloween: just turn off your porch light and don't answer the door. As a bonus, you are saving electricity/reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And griping about candy on special occasions doesn't really address the issue. Why don't you blog about children's diets the other 364 days of the year? People naturally want to indulge on special occasions: a holiday like Halloween is a special one for kids. If you really want to improve children's diets, get sodas and other junk food out of school cafeterias and vending machines.

Your focus is misdirected. If you really want to be a thoughtful progressive, you have got to do a better job.

Good luck.

Posted by Max Greenberg, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 14, 2014 at 10:11 pm

MV Resident: I agree with much of what you say. But I'm not trying to be a "thoughtful progressive". Labels are useless. I was just writing about that island of poison that rears its head for at least a month leading up to Halloween every year. It's symbolic of much of the food sold in that store and others just like it, as well as in school cafeterias and vending machines. And served at soccer team year end parties and the like. Look what passes for breakfast food in this country. You'd think that the food producers were in cahoots with big pharma: one starts by spending a fortune in advertising and marketing to our youth hooking them on the sugar drug, the other makes their fortune selling diabetes medicine and the like. Yes, let?s do something to start changing diets across the board, young and old. I?m open to suggestions. We could even start with the Girl Scouts switching over from hawking those delicious tasting cookies to something a little healthier. Uh oh, here come the Girl Scout purists?

Posted by Mom, a resident of Green Acres,
on Oct 14, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Because of food allergies, one year we sent out email to the neighborhood list and asked people to donate their old eye glasses for the Lions Club drive. People sent us their addresses, and that's where we went to trick or treat. Someone else joined us and we collected quite a few dozen pairs of eye glasses to be repurposed for people who can't afford them. I offered my kid a small amount of money for each pair of glasses collected to spend on a toy at Target.

People were very generous, however I must say people still tried to give him candy!

Anyway, it takes some organization and planning, but it's an idea.

Posted by MV Resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Oct 15, 2014 at 8:04 am

Max, I hear you.

There's a lot of poison out there that passes off as "food."

It's 2014 in the USA, and there are plenty of healthy alternatives available to people. I don't accept the "healthy alternatives are hard to obtain" argument. Kids in Bangladesh eat better than many American kids, it's that some American parents are too lazy to source healthy food.

It's really important that there are healthy alternatives in schools, since parents can't be there to oversee everything. Plus, it is the school system's responsibility to teach about good nutrition since that education might be lacking in some households. Once the kids turn eighteen, it's their responsibility to educate themselves on living a healthy lifestyle. By that time, hopefully the school's nutritional system pounded some sense into their heads.

As for group settings like youth soccer team parties, concerned parents should ask the party host to provide healthy options, or send a piece of fruit with their kids to replace the cake & ice cream.

Americans love having tons of options, so why don't you do the same for Halloween?

Offer the choice of 1.) a piece of candy, 2.) fresh fruit, or 3.) a charity card that states "In lieu of an edible treat, we will donate $1 to the [elementary school district] PTA." That way you don't have to come off as a total curmudgeon. Leave it to the individual kid/parent to decide what they feel is best.

Posted by Enough with the junk, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 15, 2014 at 8:19 am

I personally think that giving out "junk" like stickers, pencils, plastic doo-dads, etc., is doing us (actually, the planet) more of a disservice than giving out candy. How long do you think a little green plastic Frankenstein pencil topper is going to sit in a dumpster vs. one gobstopper?

As kids, we always looked forward to the trick-or-treat "after party" where my siblings, my friends, and I would dump out our candy piles in the middle of the living room floor and spend an hour trading "goods" with one another, while our parents enjoyed a cup of decaf coffee and any treats the kids were willing to give up. We were allowed to keep 1/3 portion of our candy pile and had to discard the rest.

As a parent now, I am continuing with this tradition, but instead of discarding 2/3 of the candy, I donate it. Unfortunately, I don't know what to do with the plastic knick-knacks, stickers, tattoos, and other junk, besides storing them (which takes up space) to give away the following year. My kids don't want any of it, and I certainly can't donate them.

What harm is there in giving and taking candy once a year? Let's lighten up and let kids be kids...

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 15, 2014 at 10:26 am


You make a good point about the junk. But, the junk provides some fun whereas the candy is empty calories even if donated.

I have heard of families taking a picture of each child in costume together with the stash, before dumping it. It makes a great year by year comparison, particularly when the stash is weighed!

This tradition has got way out of hand in my opinion. Every year I hear stories of bus loads of kids being brought into certain neighborhoods and other neighborhoods which are not popular only get one or two callers even though the householders have bought a ton of candy to give away. That is more candy that ends up being dumped.

I have had groups of teens coming around collecting cans of food to give to food banks. Then there is always the Unicef collecting boxes.

So how about us parents trying to find a useful way to teach our kids about healthy eating and collecting useful stuff for charity. Thinking of others and how we can help those better off would be a great move.

Who is with me?

Posted by MV Resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Oct 15, 2014 at 12:30 pm

The Unicef collection boxes are great, I remember those!

Posted by Agree with Max, a resident of College Terrace,
on Oct 16, 2014 at 9:10 am

FWIW, I agree with Max. We are sort of training our kids in bad habits. This leads to health problems when they get older, and costs our country all sorts of money that could be used on education, infrastructure, environmental cleanup, etc.

As someone above said, if it were just Halloween, we could live with it. But this training is everywhere. Every movie. Every festival. Every "super star" week at school. Every birthday.

As a parent you can say no, but why are we making it so hard to do the right thing?

I was hugely relieved when Disneyland started having healthy food choices right up front -- so much easier, and my kids love grapes, so no more fuss!

These food choices that we as a culture make have a significant impact on our health, and on where we end up spending our money.

Posted by Schools are making effort, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Oct 16, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Palo Verde elementary school has instituted a school wide healthy eating plan for this year. Teachers are not permitted to use candy as rewards. Only one sugary treat per month is permitted, so no birthday cupcakes etc. Birthdays for the month are combined into one daywith only one treat. If that month has a holiday with a party (like Halloween, Valentine's), then only one dessert treat at the party and that counts for the whole month.

Posted by Max Greenberg, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 17, 2014 at 8:12 am

Schools are making effort: Great to hear about Palo Verde's school wide healthy eating plan. Hopefully this will become policy throughout the school system. Now if all parents would make sure their kids aren't coming to school all sugared-up from bowls of heavily sweetened cereal, pop tarts etc, that would be working on the problem from both ends.

Posted by Kerry55, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Oct 18, 2014 at 6:34 am

Thanks for posting this article Max. I too am disturbed by the assault of the candy industry at this time of year. Safeway Corporation should really examine their business model. My kids like trick-or-treating and are really getting addicted to sugar. It is pervasive here. The tattoos, bracelets, play do gifts are a good idea to give out at Halloween. It is hard to limit the eating of candy when all the other kids are eating candy in their school lunches. I have noticed that our local school, Barron Park no longer has out of control sugar fests for birthdays. This year there seems to have been a policy directive about limiting sugar. A few years ago, many teachers were giving out cookies and candies as a behavior incentive almost daily. It was a very bad model. On a positive note, Friday at school there was the A-Z lunches where each letter is represented by a fruit/vegetable. It seems to be popular with the children. I'm curious how the healthy lunch program is doing in the high schools???

Posted by milton, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 21, 2014 at 7:41 pm

I'm totally cravng some chocolate after reading all of this - anyone know where i can get a hershey bar?

please all you anti sugar peeps - what did someone say peeps? more sugar!!!
tell me are you totally sugar free ?

Posted by Max Greenberg, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 22, 2014 at 11:27 am

Milton: Thanks for your email. I think there's a town in Pennsylvania where you might still be able to score a chocolate bar. Regarding being sugar-free, I include sweeteners of all kind, the sugar-free ones, the "natural" ones, diet sodas etc. The only source for my sugar is from fruit. That does not include fruit juices which have too much concentrated sugar. And after you have been sweetener-free for about a month or so, a simple banana tastes sweeter than the sweetest candy bar you could get your hands on. One more note on diet sodas which some may have read about recently: drinking diet sodas can make you gain weight. The body is tricked into thinking sugar as been ingested and produces more insulin than is actually needed which can lead to weight gain. Anyhow, enjoy your Hershey bars. I realized 4 years ago at the age of 57 that I had had enough sugar, sweets, candy, cookies,soda and processed foods to last a lifetime.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 31, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I have been collecting my coins and have plenty of cans for anyone who comes trick or treating with UNICEF boxes and food banks.

I hope that some do.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Looks like Safeway to me, what do you expect ... the rest of the store is almost the same, just a bit less blatant and better disguised.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Awwww, Milton doesn't know where to buy a Hershey bar.
Maybe too much sugar does have an effect on memory and brain function?

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Worried about the cost of climate change? Here is some hope.
By Sherry Listgarten | 23 comments | 3,341 views

Two Hours - 75,000 Meals – Wanna Help?
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,741 views


Sign-up now for 5K Run/Walk, 10k Run, Half Marathon

The 39th annual Moonlight Run and Walk is Friday evening, September 29. Join us under the light of the full Harvest Moon on a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon. Complete your race in person or virtually. Proceeds from the race go to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, benefiting local nonprofits that serve families and children in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.