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
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
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
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
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'
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
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
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.