You know, maybe this is a weird opinion, but when I eat something I like it to be food. Actual food.

I know candy isn't food, and I'm okay with that. I'll bend the rules of dietary health once in a while for chocolate or a soda or what-have-you. I just want it to involve ingredients that I at least know are somehow related to food.

I'll splurge on corn syrup in a hard candy. I'll eat waxy chocolate-flavored coating, or chocolate with (god forbid) nuts in it, and enjoy it. I'll put up with fruit flavors that are really a combination of citric acid, lactic acid, and "natural and artificial flavorings." Sure, the candy industry has lowered my expectations way too far and I would rather not think that it's acceptable for some flavors to come from such irrelevant and unnatural beginnings. But for a few things I'll accept it.

Hershey's, over and over, has blown right by those rules and gone into the land of the truly disgusting. They put PGPR in chocolate. They bought out Scharffen-Berger and then tried to court the fancy foodies by making their own line of oh-so-shiny high-end 65% chocolate bars... and then they fucking put corn syrup in them.

And now this.

There's an origin story here somewhere. People argue all the time about where the candy cane comes from - at least, they do if you believe what the Internet has to say. Apparently, the real story goes something like this....

Stick candy goes back centuries. Maybe over a thousand years. It was just plain white stick candy in the beginning. I imagine it was more of a yellowish off-white before refined sugar, but before the obsessive bleaching of everything from clothing to teeth it probably looked just fine to them.

It was used, all those hundreds of years ago, to celebrate Christmas. I am sure it was used for all kinds of other things too. After all, humanity as a big whole has never been much for avoiding sweets. Even our chimp siblings eat more fruit than anything else. Who knows what people said about the candy sticks, back then. Maybe they didn't need an excuse; I've never heard anyone claim that they hung up stockings because Jesus' feet were cold way back in the manger and now we honor him by decorating with giant socks. We do it, like our ancestors, because we want some sugar.

Eventually, though, religion definitely seeped in. Some people apparently claim that peppermint candy canes were invented to keep children quiet during church, but people have been shutting children's pie-holes with candy since it was invented. Because a nice slice of pumpkin or mincemeat is too messy to carry in your church purse. But at some point in around the 1700s, folks say, a pastor or a reverend got them made with a little hook in one end to represent a shepherd's crook, and used them in Sunday School.

Candy is a great teaching tool. I remember when I was in junior high and had to present a report on Lise Meitner (one of perhaps three women on the list of scientists we could choose from, and one who was cheated out of the Nobel Prize by the men she worked with); I figured that it would be too boring for my classmates, and got attention and an A by handing out chocolate, peanut butter, and butterscotch chips to represent... who knows what. Neutrons, protons, and electrons, I think. Hey, it got me the applause and adulation of my peers.

Likewise, this religious fellow found that the candy cane could be a great educational device. He may have started out by twisting the end and making up some very thin story about how it was connected to the lesson at hand. But soon more possibilities came into play.

Mint was always very popular, seen as almost a pious candy by many people who had had their share of quietening peppermints at their grandmother's elbow in church. So of course, a peppermint candy cane was seen as an appropriately religious snack. But soon the pastor realized that he could branch out even more. What if he incorporated chocolate somehow? Why, he would be the darling of the congregation. He might even become famous! Everyone would love the man who made chocolate accessible and allowed during church! He could be the man who chocolated Christmas!

He experimented in secret. Dipping the canes in chocolate became too messy. A chocolate candy cane itself wouldn't work: it would only take one three-year-old one time to get drooly, sticky chocolate everywhere, revealing candy as neither of heaven nor hell but simply of our messy, complicated lives on Earth. What could he do? The pastor was at his wits' end.

And then, waking from a hideous nightmare, he had it. He would create a candy cane that combined the flavors of mint and chocolate, without including any true part of either flavor. He would combine them in a way that showed off the worst parts of each. He didn't need to be loved for bringing simple chocolate joys to his congregation; that was for other, lesser men. His destiny was to be feared for showing them the true face of evil. He would teach them to recognize evil firsthand and recoil from it for the rest of their lives. With a simple candy cane.

You have probably guessed it, of course: that man's name was The Very Reverend Milton Hershey, the long-dead ancestor of the Hersheys of today. And the cane he devised with his simple eighteenth-century ingredients has been perfected today. It bears a warning green stripe in addition to the red, like the rattlesnake's warning rattle. It warns you again, in the ingredients, of its true nature: sugar, corn syrup, and artificial flavorings. Not a drop of mint or chocolate is to be found in this cane.

If you, as part of a horrible dare or a terrifiying sermon, taste this candy cane, you will understand what evil must taste like. The first flavor that hits your tongue is minty. Not mint, just minty: the sort of plasticky mintish flavor that you get from extremely cheap candy canes, the kind that are a little rubbery even when fresh from the store. Like true evil must, it lulls you into trusting it. It's the kind of flavor that whispers, "One car doesn't really make a difference in the ozone layer anyway," or "There's nothing you can do about Darfur. Hey, I bet some Krispy Kreme would taste great right about now!" Maybe you feel guilt underneath, but that pumping surge of sugar and flavor is more than enough to muffle it.

Unlike those voices, though, the minty flavor doesn't last long. We can go all our lives seeking out renewed sources for mind-numbing metaphorical mint, but this candy cane is a teaching tool. It doesn't offer us that option. Instead, the horribly, glaringly artificial chocolate flavor rears its ugly head, striking snake-fast. Gasping, you try to spit it out, but the flavor clings to your taste buds. Spit doesn't even seem to touch the nasty stuff in this cane.

The next layer of true evil is the way that it lures you in. It is addictive: it confuses your brain and tells you that you want more of this horrible stuff. That it wasn't that bad anyway. It removes the ability to remember what reality is like beyond this present moment. At this moment, the sugar has started to pound your system, telling your brain to forget that moment of harsh disgusting artificiality. "Hey, that must have been a mistake," it murmurs. "Maybe the rest of the cane will be different. It smells so good! You love chocolate and mint! Try it again!"

Again and again you go back to it, like some poor factory-farmed animal getting reamed by a feeding tube. The harsh chocolate favor fades, and soon you get to the most amazing, bizarre, ridiculous part of the whole experience:

After the initial rush of flavors, the damn thing tastes EXACTLY like a super-artificial chocolate-mint pudding cup.

How it does that when it's made of nothing but sugar and chemicals, I do not know. No, wait - that's what pudding cups are made out of, too. There isn't a scrap of dairy in the whole thing, though, or of chocolate or cocoa, both of which usually appear at least somewhere in the small print of a pudding cup label.

By now you understand again that this thing is evil, but you are fascinated by it. It's as if you have been drawn into a cult, hypnotized, brainwashed, and now you keep telling yourself that you aren't buying into anything they say at all, you just want to study their bizarre ways. You're in Jonestown, or Heaven's Gate, or the Sedona Institute, or your local far-right-wing fundamentalist church, soaking it all up and pretending it doesn't have any effect on you... but you're still there. It's like how, when you're hypnotized, you are sure that you could stop any of it at any time, you just don't want to. And so you never try, and never find out that you can't. That is what eating this candy cane is like.

Tragically, the story behind it has been lost even to the Internet. Very few people know where this candy cane comes from, that it was designed to teach us about evil. They just eat it, and like it or dislike it. And so they fail to recognize evil or act against it in the world, because no one has ever taught them how.

Perhaps this little article will help others to remember the true purpose of the Hershey's Mint Chocolate Candy Cane, and to learn from its horrible, evil, poisonous-tasting ways. Perhaps it will at least help others to avoid it, and to seek out safer ways of exploring their moral beliefs. Perhaps my efforts will fail, and Satan's army of bizarro candy cane flavorings will march on across the globe, confusing children and adults everywhere with their sweet, sweet lies about fruit flavoring and chocolate content. Only time will tell.

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