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Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America    by Steve Almond order for
by Steve Almond
Order:  USA  Can
Harvest, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Are you a candyfreak? If you read Steve Almond's book and find much in common with its author, then you probably are. I found lots to titillate the taste buds in Almond's 'Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America', as its author is omniverous in his candy consumption. In Candyfreak, he takes readers on a 'candyland adventure' tour, tasting enthusiastically at each stop.

Almond comes by his candy-addicted genes honestly as he explains via some family history. He brings to a candy tasting the same fervour (and detailed descriptions) that oenophiles bring to a fine old bordeaux. Though fairly indiscriminate in his taste for bonbons, Almond does acknowledge MWMs ('Mistakes Were Made') - I have to agree with him on white jelly beans, but vehemently disagree with his distaste for coconut concoctions.

Almond mourns the loss of the Caravelle, asking one of life's big questions, 'How is it that a candy bar, an absolutely sensational candy bar, can be banished to oblivion?' There's a thorough exploration of Boston's candy history and candy's golden age in general, factory tours of current candy production, and a discussion of the serious problem of industrial espionage in a market dominated by the 'Big Three' - Nestlé, Hershey, and Mars. Apparently, 'slotting fees' (paid to get products on the racks near 'Whatevermart' registers) have a lot to do with excluding small producers.

Almond speaks sympathetically of desperate Internet candy seekers, of the nostalgia market, and of candy's implication in imperialism. On a cross-country tour of the little guys (mostly family run businesses), we meet a 'chocolate engineer' and, sadly, Almond explains why he sees his 'dream of a bunch of small, independent microconfectioners crumbling.' I wonder if Almond will take his candy habit on a world tour next, and if so, I highly recommend his tasting Belgian champagne truffles and mozart kugeln in Salzburg.

If vicarious sharing of these entrancing edibles becomes too much for you, dip into the websites for Almond's candy sources, listed at the back of the book. I may have to do so myself as, having grown up in Britain, most of the candy referred to was unfamiliar to me. But, whether or not you are a 'confectioniscienti', Candyfreak is a toothsome read with a sweet finish.

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