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Halloween treats: Who do you trust?

Do you mind if I have a bit of a rant?

As the news rolls in about melamine in children's candy and I prepare to write a book about "inconvenient food," I consider our society on Halloween. We talked last week about all the ideas for what to give away on Halloween, some of us bemoaned the problem of not being able to hand out homemade treats because of scares (for the record, I heard a piece on NPR in the last few years about how there had been maybe two cases in all of history of people getting poisoned/hurt from Halloween treats -- less than chances that a hurricane will rip through our city).

I've given up sugar and am trying to greatly reduce my children's intake, though I let them eat whatever they get given (within reason) by teachers, relatives, friends. But really, my values these days are "prepare food with love" and I can see no love for anything but profit in the contents of the candy aisle (or the cereal aisle, or most of the aisles in the grocery store). My go-to treats are honey lavender shortbread, hazelnut butter cookies, apple pie (sweetened with maple syrup), sourdough carrot cake, and the standby: homemade oatmeal whole wheat bread with lots and lots of butter and honey. Why would I go to the store, buy something I don't believe in that very well could poison you (if the sugar isn't poison enough -- now that I've given it up even a "fun size" bar would give me a two-day headache), just because my neighbors can't trust ME?

I start to wonder if the proscription against homebaked food has gone on long enough. How did our society become this insane place where we trust a corporation unquestioningly but we don't trust our neighbors? How is it that we have grown so ill-confident of our kitchen skills that we don't even dare challenge rules against bringing homemade food to public school? (Let's leave aside allergies for the moment -- that's not the reason schools banned baking.) Damn it, I trust you to know enough about cleanliness not to get my food all poopy!

So I'm going to hand out lavendar shortbread cookies for Halloween today. I'll have an alternative (we have leftover candy on a high, high shelf) because I haven't yet gotten to the place where I want to force my neighbors to trust me. Next year maybe.


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Weren't we all raised to only go to the houses of people you know for Halloween? I remember the guilt of going to a house that was on my street, but they had no kids at my school. My mom was at home and I was just old enough to go out on my own. But my mom would have confiscated my pillow case full of candy-booty if she knew that I didn't stick to the known-only homes. If I did stick to procedure, then all of the candy/goodies would be safe. So why do we go to the houses of people we do not know? Maybe there are no lights on in our own neighborhoods. Maybe the candy they give out is not what we like. But if you are knocking on the doors of strangers, then you have to have some sense of forboding if you get a homemade treat, as the extra ingredient of love could be arsenic (I'm only being slightly sarcastic...you also might need an x-ray machine for the packaged candy!).

I'm with you - all for the homemade stuff. I've told my kids grandmas that I'm ok with them having treats occasionally, just would prefer a home or local bakery-made muffin than a prepackaged processed alternative.

I hate that the schools won't allow you to bring in home baked goods. Seems like another way they are undermining the good nutritional choices children should be making.

Please post some of your recipes! "Honey lavender shortbread, hazelnut butter cookies, apple pie (sweetened with maple syrup), sourdough carrot cake" all sound amazing!

Tell it, cafemama!

Today I had a mild panic: "Oh no, I forgot to buy candy!"

No I didn't, I've been avoiding it. It involves shopping at places I rarely shop, going down aisles packed with cheap crap that offends me by its wasteful, planned obsolescence, spending disposable income that I have precious little of right now.

I too started thinking about whipping up a tray of brownies or baggies of popcorn and figuring that if people didn't like it they could take comfort in the pounds of other junk that their kids will bring home. I'm just getting grumpier, I guess, as I age, and less concerned about pretending that what we've been doing for so long is worth doing based only on its longevity. I'm handing out pencils, toy cars, and random other never-used plastic flotsam that has ended up in our house. Passing that problem on to someone else? Maybe, but it beats lining the coffers of Mars, Inc.

I was definitely not raised to only go to the houses we knew. We had the choice of eating homemade goods as well. I remember some good cupcakes from neighbors I did not know.

I am friendly person but do not know everybody in my neighborhood. I think you have to trust the humanity of people to some degree.

I could not imagine sending my 5 year old to only the houses of people we know. This is actually a time when you might talk to your neighbors or people you would not normally mix.

Thanks for the post. I think it is great that you are baking!!

I hate to be the naysayer here but... I would not worry about intentional harm with home baked goodies from people I don't know well. I think poisoning on purpose is highly unlikely. However, I have observed that different people have (very) different standards when it comes to things like cleanliness, pets on kitchen surfaces, and using old ingredients. I would like some non-corporate/local alternatives to the standard Halloween treats that don't cost a fortune, but I'd be a little squeamish about baked goods from strangers. Commercial food producers are held to a standard that is simply absent in our home kitchens.

I hope we trick-or-treat at your house tonight! Please let us know when your book is finished, it it is anything like your blog about jam I will be in tears by the end!

Oh yeah--what MamaJoy said about people's cleanliness standards, etc. Ew, Ew, Ew.

I too struggle with this issue. Neighbors are people we don't know, and society seems disbanded all over, leaving mothers like me in despair of ever seeing my child have the same kind of Halloween experience I once had.
I grew up in the country outside of a small town, so my parents drove me around to neighbors houses, and to my grandparents homes several miles away. That was Trick or Treating for me. When my mom moved 15 miles away to a near-by city, my brother and I finally had the oppurtunity to do the door-to-door Trick or Treating we had only ever heard about. Although it was fun, it wasn't the same.
My foundest Halloween memory is of the homemade popcorn balls I received every year from one of those distant neighbors in the country. Even as a child, I appreciated and enjoyed the simplicity of that lovely home-made treat.
Oh how I long for that sense of close-knit community again. Even out in the country, where "next-door" was a half-mile away, my family had great relationships with the neighbors. How is it that we can live with-in feet of our neighbors now, and not even know their names?!

If Portland turns into a place where people hand out homemade treats I will fall in love with this city all over again.

I think if I saw a homemade goody in my kids' sacks, I might be a little wary. Especially if I didn't remember exactly which house it came from.

But on the other hand, the chances of someone taking the time to poison a whole bunch of kids they probably don't know, by spending the afternoon baking, and of having that same someone live down the block from me seems highly unlikely.

I think it would be cool if the homemade treats had a little label that said something like, "Hi my name is ______. I made these _________ to celebrate Halloween. If you would like a list of ingredients, please email me at _______."

Nope, I wouldn't allow my kids to accept a homemade treat unless I personally knew you.

I like EGL's idea ...There are some kids I know who break out in hives just by touching something that has peanuts in it and their poor parents have anxiety attacks with each playdate/school birthday/etc. At least with store-bought stuff, the ingredients are on the wrapper.

Oh my goodness!!
Yes, yes, yesh!!
I would love to hand out home-made goodies to the very few trick-or-treaters we have out our way. I had thought at one time to tie a ribbon or some sort of tag that says something about the gift, perhaps the whys of why I did it, how-its-made, the ingredients, and then a brief overview of the care I took for "sanitation's sake." Mostly though, the why's...the good why's....the less sugar, less preservatives, less fats, less everything, and then include a card of the grams of sugar and fat from each popular candy bar that is generally found in each treat bag. (M&M's, Reese's, sweet tarts, Krackel (oh my god-my favorite-I don't know why they added the "EL" on the end of that name) and a few other to name...or blame)
On a really sad note, there were a group of boys at my door tonight who didn't even say trick-or-treat, it was just "Hey." I greeted them with the usual salutations required of this time of year, and started to ask what they were wearing as costumes. Before I had my question finished, this youngest "hoodlum" of the bunch set his bag down on my porch and grabbed into my hefty sugar bowl with two hands, (TWO HANDS!!) and grabbed his share to lay in the booty bag. He must have been a social casualty of his big brother out with his big boy friends because his older brother ratted him out immediately. ("Umm, I don't think he was supposed to take that much candy?!?!") I won't go into how things ended, which wasn't bad, but it was a symptom of something greater than I know how to understand since my son is still too young to treat out in the hood.
Bless their hearts, they were just being boys, but have we really come to this? In my short and sugar-hyped conversation with these young bats and lords, there was so little candy in their bags because they had been eating ALL of that candy!!Umm, so?
What's a not-so-young mother to do?
I really think a tag with ingredients and reason is reason enough, but in the back of my "mother-mind" I will be wondering if other mothers would come back on me when their kids have a stomach-ache. I know what my sharp tongue would say, but my halfway sharp mind would think another thing.
What to do? Maybe an urban mamas trick-or-treat-street thaaang?

ooo, lavender shortbread? where do you live? :)

There's a great lavender shortbread recipe in the Herbfarm cookbook. It calls for sugar, but I bet honey could be substituted. I also would love to see some of the recipes mentioned,they sound yummy!

As a person who bakes many of our treats, I have the occasional twinge when I shell out $$ for treats for school that have to be commercially made, and, depending on who you talk to, individually wrapped. However, since taking a class on bloodborne pathogens, and I am no longer complaining about having to buy treats. Trust is great, but only goes so far, sad to say.

I live on a street where we know most of the neighbors personally and those we don't, we know by sight. Certainly if any of those people offered homemade goodies, I'd not only not have a problem with it, I'd prefer it. We bake all the time in my house, and I often offer muffins, cookies, etc to our mail carrier, neighbors, or anyone who happens to ring the bell at the right time.

If someone n my neighborhood whom I didn't know offered homemade treats to my child, I think I'd take it on a case-by-case basis. Just by looking at them, if they have kids, etc I think we can tell a lot.

And I definitely would take the lavender shortbread cookies ANYTIME! ;-)

We went to a house last night that had a table set up outside with hot chocolate, cookies, and a fire pit going for roasting marshmallows. We learned that the family had just moved in 2 months ago and thought this would be a great way to get to know the neighborhood. I didn't even think twice about letting my kids partake, and remarked to my husband as we were leaving that it seems like the (unneccesary) anxiety over hoemmade food is dying down.

What a great idea!

I too struggled with buying candy this year and ended my day with a pillow conversation with my husband about the "stupidity" of this holiday. Why do we let our kids knock ont he doors of strangers, take food from their house, and then ingest candy that we wouldn't normally allow them to have?

I should say that I'm a major Halloween junky (it happens to be my big sisters birthday and we have always celebrated BIG) and we had a HUGE party last night. I definitely allow my children (2 and 3.5) to trick or treat, but find it to be such a weird thing to do!

I LOVE the idea of giving home made treats, but am still not sure how I would feel about allowing my children to eat said goodies, especially from homes we don't know. I would love to sit out on my porch and hand out cocoa and cookies...what a fun way to meet the neighbors. I also like the idea of including info about any baked goods that you do hand out, so people know it came from a loving and involved family who took the time not only to bake the goods, but also to include info about it. If someone goes that far out of their way it's hard to be suspicious of them.

The fondest memory I have of Halloween from when I was a kid is our one neighbor who would give out popcorn balls! We LOVED them and always tried to go there early to get one. But, my mom did remind me that we could eat these home made treats only because we knew and loved Mrs. ---.

Good Luck (next year) and Happy Halloween everyone!

Years ago my mom gave out popcorn balls with a note and ingredients listed. This was during the razor blade scare when packaged food was considered less safe.

I too love the idea of locally produced/organic alternatives and the great suggestions of stickers, tatoos, pencil toppers, etc. A kid that can't appreciate this variety is getting to old to trick-or-treat, in my opinion.

On the issue of schools serving home-baked goods, this is a huge liability for them. Obviously the allergy thing is tremendously serious. But as others have mentioned, unless you hold a food handler's license, you may not be upholding important safety guidelines for food preparation. It saddens me that I can't whip up a batch of homemade goodness for my students.

For myself, I don't think I could refuse lavendar shortbread if someone offered it! Yum.

I have just read all of comments posted since my last one and had another thought. My son is only in preschool so I dont know much about public schools and I just wonder when we decided that homemade stuff wasn't ok to serve at school? I realize that I am older than I feel but I went to school primarily in the 80's and we had plenty of homemade stuff. Don't people still have bake sales? Much of that is cooked in people's homes. I get the sanitation thing, but most of us wouldn't think twice about letting our children be admitted to the hospital if necessary and I am sure they are more likely (statistically) to get some awful disease while there than from eating someone's homemade halloween goodie. Hope everyone is having fun with their chocolate covered kids today!

It's a new thing school districts have adopted over the last few years. And here's why: litigation, litigation, litigation. Imagine the lawsuit someone my come up with if their kid got sick from food at school. It's a wonderful society we live in.

Halloween happened to fall within my no-plastic week, so we bought bulk candy in our own re-used plastic bags: peanut-carob turtles and yogurt-covered pretzels. I was so pleased with myself! But I apologized to every single person who knocked at our door. What's with that? I'll work on that for next year and be more proud, Sarah. Next year, home baked! I can just see a Pdx-based 'homemade halloween' surge :-)

I'm in. Next year - note attached to popcorn balls. I've got a memo in my calendar. Because hello - we are experimenting with the "sure - if you think it's ok, eat what you want today..." I know I should be happy, but, for better or worse, my kids are doing well with it. Thus this candy will be around for a while...

I like the idea of handing it out with a tag with your name, etc. The subversivness appeals to me - forcing parents to make a decision and ask themselves the questions. My friend's mom used to hand out homemade ribbon candy in little baggies tied with bows - it was beautiful - no kid could resist it. And, if you go the candy/sugar route, it is so easy to buy chocolate molds and make your own chocolates in all sorts of shapes and flavors.

That said, I think I would hesitate to let my kids eat homemade candy from people we didn't know. Would you? Now it's OK because they only really trick-or-treat at neighbors houses we know or at houses of our choosing, but when they get older they are going to go on huge candy-gathering missions.

THAT said, who knows what the heck goes into the store-bought candy and weather it's actually any safer than anything that could happen from eating something homemade. I don't have a whole heck of a lot of trust in mass-produced foods.

I have also longed for days when we come to trust each other (even the stranger's house around the corner).

In the meantime, I've started giving out small toys on Halloween just to avoid the chemicals, petrol, and other junk in candy.

Of course, I buy these toys on sale at a major corporate department store, but it seems a compromise of some sort.

And the kids LOVE getting something different.

We have a neighbor who is reputed to be a wee odd, but so much of what he does makes so much sense. It's like he's living the spartan, no car, green life but not saying a word about it. Anyway. he hits Tidal Wave bookstore during its big fall sale and gives the kids books. Used, cheap books. It's beautiful on pretty much every count. Go Warren!

I made carmel apples and handed them out the the kids I knew and then had a batch of store bought candies for those I didn't.

I grew up getting homemade brownies, carmel apples, popcorn balls and these where just a few. I cherished every homemade goody as well as the candy. I however grew up in a town of 300 people and my parents also drove me around from house to house because of how spread out the neighbors were.

I want my son to have that too. If my neighbors hand out homemade goodies I would of excepted without hesitation.

Sigh... I really like the idea, no love the idea of homemade Halloween. Sadly though, I could never allow my kids to eat homemade treats due to food allergies. I let my kids trick or treat for fun, but we have rules: No eating any candy, and mama takes it all to swap for safe stuff. What we take goes to work with dada.

That aside though, I don't think I'd be comfy with others' standards in cleanliness. I was at a playgroup recently, and saw the mom cleaning a spill on the floor with the same sponge she ended up using for the dishes. Bleh. Other friends let their cat on the kitchen counter. Double bleh. Anyway, no, I wouldn't be comfy with that.

All that aside, as I took my kiddos trick or treating the other night I spent time thinking how strange it all was. I ended up only going to a few houses where I could catch up with neighbors. We had a good time, but it all does seem a little strange, especially since we know the kids can't eat the stuff. Why do it then? Because their friends do is a stupid excuse. I guess I just long for them to have the same kinds of Halloween memories that I had growing up, food allergies or not.

Thanks for the follow-up on the public school - homemade treat ban. I figured as much but had to ask. I have to say that I would probably accept homemade goodies from anyone who cared enough to make them. What if next year everyone who wants to hand out homemade treats gets a button or something and wears it for handing out candy and puts one on their child(ren) for trick-or-treating? This would be the tip that they will accept your homemade treats. My son is allergic to peanuts but if the treats include ingredients then no worries and his Dad gets an extra treat for work. The idea needs some fine-tuning but maybe something like it would work.

In this day and age, I cannot trust homemade treats for my child. I'll partake in the occasional work potluck, with the understanding that I didn't want these people prepare it. However, I prefer my child to consume something that is store-bought. The ban on homemade goods started some time in 1986 or 1985, because I remember. There was an eColi scare and from that point, home made goods were banned from our school. I trust people, I just don't know if they washed their hands, used proper food handling techniques, etc. Not knowing makes me weary and I'd rather err on the safe side. You just never know. For those who want to give homemade treats, either give them to the families you know or put a tag with ingredients or even a disclaimer. What if a child became deathly ill from your baked good? Are you willing to accept liability?

Jennifer: your comment is precisely the reason why I wrote this post. you don't trust me (I know, you don't know me, but imagine you live in my neighborhood) but you trust the employees and management at some corporation whose manufacturing plant you've never visited and *certainly* never met? i'd love to see the data on e. coli spread by homemade baked goods vs. that spread by the stuff that's in the supermarket; it doesn't exist though. please point me in the direction of the last major "i made my friends deathly ill with my baked goods" news story and i'll happily put a legal disclaimer on everything i bake from now on. "you can't trust me. i'm not a minimum-wage employee for a major corporation who's taken a 10-minute food handling test, for which food service workers routinely cheat so it's worthless anyway, but their stuff is wrapped in an official plastic wrapper with a logo and marketed with millions of dollars on children's TV so you KNOW you can trust it!"

why do you trust m&m/mars more than you trust your neighbors? that's a societal problem that's enormous and way more frightening than a guy dressed up as the grim reaper hiding in the bushes on halloween.

Sarah, I also have to wonder if people who don't trust their neighbors/friends/coworkers cooking are comfortable eating at a restaurant.

Re: the Oregon Food Handlers card: My sis recently took the test online while at our house. She starts the "test" and the first thing it asks is to enter the name of the test proctor. Sis looks at my DH and says, "How 'bout it? Wanna be my proctor?" DH's qualifications? He has eaten food before. So we watched "The Office", sis took the test--online, with the answers open in another tab. What a joke.

Thanks for the follow up, it's nice to see that people are really passionate about this homebaked treats topic. I don't have the info on the specific cases of people getting sick from homemade treats. I work at the corporate headquarters for a very large restaurant chain, so I am aware of food-borne illness and what can potentially happen if a person contracts such an illness. I am not a freak who does not eat at restaurants and on occasion I have been known to let my 16-month old son eat a cracker that he's dropped on our floor. My point is that I don't feel comfortable with my young son consuming treats that have been made at another home - specifically a stranger's home, besides our own. Plus, he's a little young to go trick-or-treating for the actual treat aspect. We only took him to two houses this year for the mere experience and his father and I ate the candy - snack-size Snickers and bite-size Three Musketeers. As he gets older, trick-or-treating will be a special occasion -- he won't be gobbling candy every day. When he has birthday parties that his friends will attend, you can bet that I will be buying a store-bought cake or treats from my local grocery store. If anyone gets sick from consuming their goods, the store will be one to answer and handle the liability. Also, just to clarify, I do imbibe at the company potluck, because I can make that decision. Until my son is an adult, I will try to make sure his food choices are as safe as possible. I don't think that makes me a terrible mother.

I discovered this thread one year later and love it! To those who originally posted, was this Halloween different from 2008? Did anyone serve homemade goods? (if so, we're coming over next year, lol).

andy: I didn't serve home-baked treats this year because I didn't get the time to make them (and last year we only had a few trick-or-treaters). but I was so pleased to see an older man in my neighborhood had made popcorn balls, and he put one of those address labels on them so we'd know where they came from. it was very sweet (both ways) :).

Interesting post! We trick or treated with friends in Arbor Lodge neighborhood this year and received no homemade treats. There were a few houses that gave out non-candy treats like stickers but not too many. I love the idea of the ID tags on the homemade treats. If I ever do decide to make treats to give out I will definitely do this. And as to the worry about E. coli etc in home-baked goods, that seems so far-fetched to me, but we all have our own comfort level etc. It seems that the cases of E. coli or other food-bourn illnesses that you read about in the media are from either restaurants or commercially produced or processed foods, like the baby spinach thing last year. But maybe you wouldn't hear about cases that happen in one person's home because fewer people are affected. And, an aside, I have probably been known to wipe the floor with the dish rag on occasion and have lived to tell about it.

I agree that it's the food handling and not the threat of random intentional harm that dissuades from homemade treats. In fact, I'm 38 and I have never heard any warnings in the news or public health warnings about watching out for razor blades in apples or poisoned homemade goods or candy. I've only heard people talk about hearing and not worrying about those things, but have never seen a source.

I've worked in food processing and I know that there are things in place that keep workers from doing things that people do at home (cross contamination, etc.). In fact, at an outdoor birthday party in a park, I saw a (medical) doctor scoop up cheerios spilled on the ground back into the bowl the child had, and put it back on the table. Um, hello? And the numbers of people who wash their hands after using the bathroom are not encouraging.

I think it's great for kids to get a variety of treats on Halloween, candy or otherwise, and I'd probably feel better with the homemade treats at parties. We don't keep candy at our house and won't, so it's a once a year thing.

My daughter and I made chocolate mini-cupcakes with orange sugar sprinkles to hand out this year. The kids' faces lit up and they squealed "cupcakes!" when they saw something different. Around 9:30, long after the pumpkins were blown out and the porch lights off, a group of five kids knocked on the door and asked if there were any cupcakes left.

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