At the store checkout yesterday, A. kept grabbing at chocolate bars and packages of gum until I snapped at him, at which point he erupted into a full-blown tantrum. I struggled to finish the transaction with a screaming, writhing child hanging off one arm, another trying to climb out of the shopping cart, and an armload of diapers and bags of milk. This is not a new occurrence. The candy rack at the checkout is an enormous point of contention in our family and something that I discuss with A. almost every time we go into a store. He knows he’s not supposed to touch or ask, because he’s not getting any, but it continues to happen every single time. And, to be honest, it’s hardly my kid’s fault.
The candy rack at the checkout is a bizarre, perverse, and insidious practice that I’ve grown to hate with a passion. I know it’s the most profitable area of the store, but there’s a lot more at stake. It’s as if store owners wish to create as much negative tension as humanly possible in young families who are out shopping. The candy rack is an instant temper tantrum machine, because what small person can resist the allure of chocolate at eye level? Those small paw-sized packages are invitations for disaster, wrapped in their shiny foil, full of such delectable taste. They’re hard enough for an adult to avoid, let alone a kid who has little buying power and doesn’t know how to satisfy cravings in other ways.
It’s a well-known fact that North American kids are struggling with all-time high rates of childhood obesity. Parents, teachers, and legislators talk constantly about revamping school cafeterias, improving physical education programs, and increasing nutritional awareness, all in the hopes of teaching kids how to eat well and treat their bodies right, and yet something as basic as the candy rack in the checkout still continues to prevail. It’s precisely these spontaneous, consolatory purchases that establish horrible eating habits to begin with: “OK, fine, honey. I’ll buy you a Skor bar just this once if you promise to stop screaming.” Voilà! Child learns that screaming = chocolate = instant happiness. And you wonder why your kid turns to sugar to deal with depression that’s related to hating his or her body in ten years’ time?
If we know that sugar is a major cause for this obesity pandemic among kids, then why do we continue to flaunt it in front of their eyes? Are we trying to build up self-resistance or character strength? Because if so, that’s just cruel. Imagine if there were a fully stocked bar lining the wall at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Why not stock the checkout racks with cigarettes and marijuana? Just like sugar, they’re all damaging substances in their own ways.
I’m not against sugar altogether. My child eats dessert a couple times a week and enjoys his treats at Halloween, Easter, and Christmas, but I refuse to buy him candy at the store. My distaste for our sugar-pushing culture has gotten to the point where I’m happily vocal about it. When the butcher asked my son yesterday, “Will your mommy let you have a sucker?”, I jumped in promptly and said, “No!”, consequently hauling a screaming child out of the store. (I felt like snapping at him, “I’ll take a cigarette while you’re at it.”) It’s so inconsiderate and frustrating when I’m trying to raise my kid to be as healthy as possible, but the entire society is shoving sugar down his throat.
At the checkout, I’ve become loudly vocal in my hatred of the candy rack. I used to whisper quietly, but now I announce it at full volume: “That’s junk food, it’s bad for you, and there’s no way you’re getting that crap!” Yesterday, for the first time, I turned to the checkout lady and, in front of a long lineup of customers, voiced my wonder at why store owners choose to create such challenging situations for parents and what a horrible message it sends to kids. It was then I realized I’m ready to launch a campaign. I will send letters and a petition to local store owners requesting them to remove candy racks from the checkout aisles for all the reasons stated above. By all means, continue to sell candy, but please keep it out of kids’ reach. It’ll be better for everyone in the long run.