A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Gena Bigler: Gone are days of homemade Halloween treats; holiday creativity needed

Popcorn balls were the ultimate trick-or-treat delicacy. Once upon a time, there was a sweet lady who made them every year and they were divine.
That was long ago in the tiny town of Hyden, Kentucky. Before parents had to sift through Halloween treats looking for razor blades and arsenic, some people hand made delicious treats.

   Non-food treats are also an option for those with allergies. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Non-food treats are also an option for those with allergies. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Just below the coveted popcorn balls on a scale of treats were peanut butter divinity pinwheel candies and cookies. Now, all treats
are mass produced, prepackaged and purchased. I would love to bake cookies or mini-cupcakes for the little monsters that ring my door bell, but I understand that the majority of these would go immediately into the trash.
I also understand why parents exercise such caution. Besides the terror incidents of treat tampering in the 1980s, many parents today are dealing with dangerous food allergies. The wrong ingredient could literally kill a food sensitive child. For a parent, there is nothing scarier than such danger to a child.
Most of my life was spent in blissful ignorance of the dangers of food allergies. As a child, I had a friend who had a bee sting allergy and I remember feeling baffled and sad about her absolute terror of all flying insects. She could see her Achilles heel.
Bees touch our senses before they present an immediate threat. Food often does not. Some allergies are so powerful even the vapor can cause an acute reaction.
Wheat and nut flours are hidden in unexpected places. It would never have occurred to me to scan the label of soy sauce for wheat until a family friend asked to read the label before eating. Going out to a restaurant for a meal can be an act of immense courage.
A close relative has a severe food allergy that developed later in life. A dedicated foodie, she carefully reads menu descriptions, asks questions, notifies the wait staff of her allergies and still receives plates with obvious allergens present. Dining out is no longer an indulgent luxury; it is a dance with death or Russian roulette with food.
With the increase in food allergies, Halloween has changed as well. For families with serious food allergies, every Halloween is like that awful terror-filled holiday in the 1980s. Packages are carefully read, and trick-or-treating may simply not be an option
for children with severe food allergies.
A new campaign by Food Allergy Research and Education is hoping to change that. The Teal Pumpkin campaign is encouraging folks to offer non-food treats and to let trick-or-treaters know by displaying a teal pumpkin. You can read more about the campaign and allergies by going to their website foodallergy.org.
Some non-food treat options are pencils, erasers, stickers, glow sticks or any party favor type novelty. Most dollar stores or party stores have plenty of low-cost options that children will enjoy.
This year, I will fondly remember the old days of lovingly prepared treats and will make them for my family. For the little trick-or-treat monsters that come to my door, in addition to the prepackaged candy, I will offer mini-comics or glow bracelets to those who need a non-food option. Everyone should enjoy Halloween. It should be fun scary, not dangerous scary, even if no one is giving out popcorn balls.


Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.


Click here to read more columns from Gena Bigler.

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