Trick or treating was a blissful time for me as a child. I grew up a while back, before there were scares about poisoned candy or apples with razor blades. In fact, many of my neighbors handed out treats like homemade popcorn balls and fresh fruit. Sigh… those days of innocence. It seems like a story from another lifetime and for more than just a few reasons. Things are truly getting scary out there…
Did you know that according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), Americans will collectively spend more than $2 BILLION on Halloween candy this year, and about $47 per household ? That’s a lot of sweets!
But did you also know that many of those dollars are going directly to support practices like forced child labor and lead poisoning?
Let’s start with the basics. NRF reports that most children who trick-or-treat will end up consuming about 3.4 pounds of candy, most of it on Halloween. That’s more calories than if they were to eat 12 Burger King Big Macs and over 3 cups of sugar. What exactly ARE they eating though? And does it matter where it comes from?
We say it does. Every dollar you spend on any product, candy or otherwise, can and should align with your values. And if you are vegan or gluten free there ARE good options for you at regular supermarkets!
Why vegan? It’s great for the environment, for one. Plant-based options have smaller footprints overall. And usually, we’d say better for your health, however no one in their right mind would claim that Smarties are a health food! If you’re vegan, staying vegan with your Halloween candy is easier than you think. Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) keeps this handy list online of vegan candy brands, and magazine VegNews also has a list of vegan-friendly candies. There is overlap between the two, and both offer some suggestions only on their lists. Even if you take these lists to the grocery store, be sure to read labels, as sometimes recipes vary if the items are made in a different factory.
On our shopping trips (we researched in Maryland, Pennsylania and Delware as we traveled for other work) we found that vegan Halloween candy was pretty easy to locate. Both national brands and smaller local companies had options in every state and at regular grocers and larger drug stores.
The same was true with gluten-free options. Celiac Central has two online lists of GF candy options that are all easy to find, national brands. Many overlap with vegan options, too. Again, be sure to read labels to double check that recipes haven’t varied.
The other piece of the puzzle for us is: Where was the candy manufactured? When we can, we like to buy from local companies. We live in Maryland, so some of our favorite Halloween giveaways are from Stauffer’s Animal Crackers, Snyder’s Pretzels and Utz – all three companies/factories are located in southern Pennsylvania and are less than 50 miles from our home. They support the local economy and the holiday offerings are vegan-friendly and nut-free. They’re not gluten free, though, so we choose Smarties, which are made in the USA, to make sure we have treats for little GF monsters that come to the door.
Where things are made is part of their footprint. Not all candy lists its origin. Some just list the company headquarters location, and even after searching websites and sending email inquiries, we weren’t able to figure out where some candy was manufactured. To be ethical with your candy spending, skip bags that don’t list an origin – stick to brands that list a country of manufacture and choose one close to where you live – that has a minimum wage for workers (more on that in a second…).
This sort of research means a few extra minutes at the super market reading candy labels, but it’s worth it to know where your food comes from. After all, I bet you are excited to buy local produce from a farm stand. Why wouldn’t those same thoughts apply to candy?
Remember the huge candy recall in 2010? It was candy from China and Colombia that contained lead in the actual treats and in the wrappers. The lead was physically heavy – so it added to the weight of the product. Little did shoppers know that their pound of candy was being weighed down by a toxic heavy metal. This was in brands you know, too, like Nestle Raisinets and York Peppermint Patties. Once again, it pays to know where your candy comes from or try to go local!
We’re realistic, though – it can be hard to read all those labels. And you’re going to find that your sentimental childhood favorites – mostly Hershey, Cadbury and Nestle chocolates – very rarely list where they are made.
About chocolate…The number one Halloween treat isn’t *just candy* – it’s chocolate. Creamy, dreamy, decadent chocolate. Chocolate is much tricker than candy. The issues around chocolate production are many – not to mention sorted.
Being ethical with chocolate means choosing brands that take steps to prevent child labor on cocoa farms. More than 60% of cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, comes from countries in West Africa. Working on a cocoa farms is grueling, and not very profitable. In fact, most cocoa farmers and their families live in poverty. Tulane University has estimated that 1.8 million children are involved in the production of cocoa, and children are often traded as a labor commodity on these cocoa plantations.
Makes you feel sorta weird about that peanut butter cup in your hand, right? When I first discovered this, I was already vegan and didn’t eat milk chocolate. But to my surprise, even some “fancy” dark chocolate brands are on the forced child labor bandwagon. You have to really do your homework on chocolate and the more you discover, the picker you will become about brands of cocoa and chocolates.
Want to learn more about this? Watch the 2010 documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate. “ It takes you undercover to expose the the working conditions on conventional West African cocoa plantations, all in the service of our desire for chocolate. You can screen this movie for FREE online at this page.
Don’t despair! Not all chocolate is packed with horror! A few smaller chocolate companies pride themselves on their commitment to the small-holder farmers who provide their cocoa year after year.
On our shopping trips, we found that sourcing ethical Halloween chocolates was possible, but pricey. There’s a reason that cheap chocolate is so cheap. On average, to hand out fair-traded chocolate, you’re looking at about $1 per treat. If you only get 20 or 30 trick-or-treaters, you may be able to do this. Easy to find brands include Equal Exchange, Endangered Species Bug Bites, Justin’s, Sweet Earth, and NibMor Organic. We found a few at the supermarkets, but more at Whole Foods and lots of options for ethical chocolate are available online, including Amazon.com
What’s the solution that doesn’t leave a bitter taste in your mouth? What do you hand out to those adorable little ghouls and goblins? Kinda makes you wish you could just hand out apples or homemade popcorn balls, doesn’t it?
We say start where you are and don’t make it harder than it has to be! If you want to start with vegan or gluten free, do that. Is it important to you to go nut-free, in case of allergens? Then do that. Want to go local? Perfect, go with it and find local-to-you companies making Halloween treats. Want to do ALL of the above? It’s completely possible and you can make it happen. And if you’re a chocoholic and want to hand out ethical chocolate, by all means – go for it!
Now, about all those candy wrappers… why not keep them OUT of the landfill and make an up cycled purse or bag? Project!
Wishing you a happy, healthy and ethical Halloween!
Candy in Photos
Annie’s Homegrown Bunny Fruit Snacks (vegan, GF, organic, made in USA)
Betty Crocker Fruit Roll-Ups Trick or Treat Minis (vegan, GF; origin unknown)
Charms Blow Pops (vegan, GF, made in USA)
Charms Candy Corn Pops (vegan, GF, made in USA)
Dubble Bubble Cry Baby Bubble Gum (vegan, GF, made in Canada)
Dum Dum Original Pops (vegan, GF, made in USA)
Eden Foods Quiet Moon Pocket Packs (vegan, GF, kosher, organic, non-GMO; origin unknown)
Endangered Species Bug Bites Dark Chocolate squares (vegan, GF, organic, fair trade certified; manufacture unknown)
Go Organics Hard Candies (vegan, GF, organic, made in USA)
Hansen’s Junior Juice Box, Mixed Fruit (vegan, GF; origin unknown)
Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (vegan, organic, GF, rainforest alliance certified; manufacture unknown)
Laffy Taffy (vegan; origin unknown)
Larabar Uber mini-bar (vegan, GF, kosher; origin unknown)
Musselman’s Apple Sauce cups (vegan, GF, grown in USA apples)
Nabisco Mini Oreos (vegan; origin unknown)
Nib More Chocolate Square (vegan, GF, organic, rainforest alliance certified; manufacture unknown)
Popcorn Indiana Trick or Treat Kettlecorn (vegan, GF, made in USA)
Smarties (vegan, GF, made in USA)
Sour Patch Kids (vegan, Made in Canada)
Stauffer’s Animal Crackers (vegan, made in USA)
Utz Halloween Pretzel Treats (vegan, made in USA)
YumEarth Organics Fruit Snacks (vegan, GF, organic, made in France)
YumEarth Organics Pops (vegan, GF, organic, made in USA)
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