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Jewish World Review Jan. 13, 2004 / 19 Teves, 5764

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Wanted: Unadulterated candy machines | It was bloodless. Silent. All right, it was completely ignored. And yet, it affects us all: the candy machine coup.

Right under our very noses - and mouths - the candy machine has undergone a radical regime change. Think candy still rules the racks? Wrong-o. It's snacks. They're muscling in on previously sacred (that is, candy bar) territory.

If your vending machine is anything like the one here, it is a glass booth filled with coils clutching what should be a bevy of chocolate bars, with the occasional Chuckles thrown in for the choco-phobes who shouldn't be hanging around candy machines in the first place.

But now, it seems, the choco-phobes have won. Snacks both salty and sweet occupy five of the six rows - Pop-Tarts packets, muffinettes, pretzels, popcorn, trail mix, not to mention "Grandma's Cookies." Grandma being a factory. Even the single row of candy bars isn't safe from snackification. A packet of Lorna Doones sneaked in there.

What is going on? Oh, you know - America's ever more tortured relationship with food.

A healthy relationship involves commitment - something Americans aren't willing to make. Many feel eating a real meal requires too much time and effort. And so we turn to the machine, our new-age Automat.

Breakfast, a Pop-Tart. Lunch, a bag of chips and a Coke.

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But even as we feel bad taking time out for food, we also feel bad taking time out from food. (I told you the relationship was tortured.) Remember how much Americans used to smoke? Now we're nibbling instead. And since it's hard to nibble Almond Joys all day long, we are mainlining a steady stream of alternatives - Cheetos, then a muffin, then pretzels. ... The candy machine is an enabler.

Finally, one also can't discount America's extremely strange idea of what constitutes "healthy" eating. "Candy is the quintessential empty calories," says Jennifer Berg, head of food studies at New York University. "But a corn chip sort of suggests vegetables. And even cookies suggest wholesomeness."

It has gotten to the point where eating candy is considered sinful.

"A candy bar is just about pleasuring yourself," says foodie Michael Stern, co-author of the "Harry Caray's Restaurant Cookbook." "It is one of those sheer indulgences that I'm much happier doing in the privacy of my car."

Whoa. That puts it on par with, well ... all sorts of stuff. Candy is clearly becoming too taboo for public consumption.

Consider it gone with the vend.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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