We all hear scary stories on Halloween: razor blades in caramel apples, poisoned candy, metal shavings in lollipops and maybe even a serial killer or two wearing hockey masks. Eerie tales – some factual, some urban legend – are part of the holiday's spirit.
But food activists bombard us with horror stories about our food the other 364 days of the year.
It's time to rip the masks off these anti-treat tricksters.
Consider the recent hubbub about high fructose corn syrup. Some scaremongers have turned this corn sugar into a veritable bogeyman, claiming it plays a special role in making kids fat.
Nonsense. The human body can't tell the difference between corn sugar and table sugar. The American Dietetic Association says it's "nutritionally equivalent to sucrose (table sugar)," and the American Medical Association says it "does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners."
At long last, doctors and nutritionists are beginning to preach that sugar is sugar and calories are calories. It's a parent's job to make sure kids don't pig out too much on their Halloween stash. And no one should pretend a candy calorie is more fattening than a pasta calorie.
Some activists, though, love to tell a fairy tale about certain calories – the ones in candy and soft drinks – having the singular power to make us fat. A few even claim secret chemicals in our foods conspire to help us gain weight. (TV's "Dr. Oz" recently promoted this myth.) Everything from soup to nuts, the story goes, poses a threat to our bodies' hormone systems.
When will this madness end? Apparently, not anytime soon. Dozens of green groups want us all to eat organic, eat local, eat "noncorporate." They insinuate that chemicals in nonorganic foods may be slowly killing us all. Pumpkin pie and tomato sauce could be "tainted" by pesticides and packaging chemicals. And so on.
The "eat only organic" prescription, and the diagnosis that precedes it, are both as silly as a Lady Gaga strip steak costume.
For one thing, there are many organic canned foods. They're all packaged the same way as their conventional counterparts. Only the price tag is different.
And the whole idea of food packaging chemicals making us fat by monkeying with human hormones is based on guesses and conjectures, not rigorous science. Our bodies have evolved to be quite good at filtering out toxins. (It's all our livers and kidneys seem engineered to do.)
Great Britain's Food Standards Agency recently sifted through the compost of unsubstantiated organic food claims, too. It found no nutritional difference between health-haloed organics and the ordinary food most Britons can actually afford.
Want a real fright? If you think that organic apple doesn't need to be washed, think again. Organic farms that grow the overpriced produce we sometimes feed our consciences use plenty of pesticides. The U.S. government considers some bug-killing toxins more "natural" than others. (Guatemalan coffee farmers have even used fermented urine to scare off pests. You're drinking it.)
We're exposed to thousands of chemicals every day, some made by Mother Nature and others by scientists. One Berkeley professor calculates that 99.9 percent of the chemicals we consume every day are produced naturally by plants.
But we encounter even the remaining 0.1 percent in tiny, tiny amounts. Our exposure to most chemicals is only measurable in parts-per-trillion. That's like a single drop of water in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.
So this Halloween, hand out candy bars with a clear conscience. Eat what you like. Let your kids indulge in a few extra sweets. You can catch up with broccoli and bananas some other time.
But look out for that one kid in the neighborhood whose mom dresses him up as a uniformed member of the "food police." Hide the chocolate, give him raisins and rice cakes, and nobody will get hurt.