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Illustration by Brittany England

I grew up on candy corn.

Since childhood, my mom taught me that come the end of September, it was candy corn season. From late September through late December — which is about the time that our post-Halloween stash runs out — we enjoy the sugary simplicity of this seasonal treat.

In general, candy corn memories bring me back to when I first fell in love with it; back when trick-or-treating candy was universally safe to eat and kids weren’t taught to hate sugar. That was a long time ago.

These days, much of our cultural views are shaped by my fellow millennials and the Gen Z-ers behind us, most of us trying to make this crazy world a better place in the ways we deem best.

We’re in an era where plastic bags are being outlawed, metal straws are all the rage, and VSCO girls are making reusable water bottles trendy. We support companies that align with our views, are eating less meat, and demonize sugar more than ever before.

Don’t get me wrong: there have always been fad diets that prohibit added sugar. I first heard about the Atkins diet when I was a child, and nowadays there’s keto, Whole 30, paleo, and more. Not to mention, there are people who aren’t concerned with weight loss but have dietary lifestyles that aren’t conducive to eating mainstream candy.

People like Cassandra, who professed her former love for candy corn. “I wish they made a vegan version,” she says. “I’d still eat it.”

For Johnnie, he loves “the buttery sweet flavor” of candy corn but the sugar makes him feel ill. “A little goes a long way… because too much sugar makes me sick to my stomach.”

It wasn’t until recently, however, that I realized just how polarizing candy corn is. The sugary, waxy fall treat that some of us are obsessed with make other people gag — and not because of their dietary habits.

Mary, for example, had quite a strong reaction when we talked about candy corn. “I’d rather eat dog sh*t,” she quips. In her case, the disdain for candy corn isn’t health-conscious at all. Listing the texture, taste, and aftertaste as repulsive to her, she adds, “I can’t even talk about it, I’ll throw up.”

Conversely, for some people, their feelings about candy corn have little regard for the texture, taste, and aftertaste. Their feelings come from something more. Something nostalgic, something comforting, or something sentimental — but always something.

“I love candy corn! I eat it all year around. I don’t know why I like it so much. Maybe a little nostalgia,” Samantha admits. “One of my other favorites is [Valentine’s Day] sweetheart candy. I’m a sucker for a themed candy, I guess.”

For Maggie, candy corn is calming. “I nibble at a piece of candy corn in order of smallest to largest, or white to orange to yellow. I strive to eat off all the same color at one time because it fuels my OCD tendencies,” she explains.

In her case, it’s not so much about taste or sugar content so much as it’s about the well-proportioned pyramid of waxy goodness. “I guess,” she muses, “I think it tastes good? It just tastes like sugar.”

But for Reanna, a lovely woman I crossed paths with, candy corn will never be sweet again. “I went through a 5-year annual candy corn binge. When I lived with my mom, she bought it every year at Halloween and we would eat it together for a few weeks. I haven’t eaten it since [those days].”

As we were chatting, I asked if she simply got sick of candy corn after eating so much of it over the years. The answer was entirely surprising in the most heartbreaking way. “My mom passed away… it was sort of her thing. I can’t buy it now. Sounds dumb, but it’s not the same without her.”

When I think about Maggie and Reanna’s experiences in particular, I’m reminded of just how sentimental foods can be. We live in an age where it’s easy to assign morals to food as “bad” or “good.” But in actuality, food is only as bad or as good as it makes us feel.

When candy corn crosses my mind, I think about a shared interest with my mom — and how we both will only buy Brach’s, since it’s the best candy corn brand, hands down. I think about cozy fall days wearing comfy flannels and gearing up for our brutal winters in the northeast. I think about its sweetness, with no guilt as to candy being unhealthy. I think about… simplicity.

Much like food in general, everyone has their own opinion on the merits of candy corn. The situation is not black and white — it’s shades of white, orange, and yellow. But if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that me, my mom, and our candy corn-loving comrades aren’t giving up this iconic fall treat anytime soon.

Candy corn is not bad. It’s also not good. It’s sweet, the way sugar is supposed to be.

Alexis Dent is an essayist, author, and entrepreneur. When she’s not at her keyboard, you can find her on a beach somewhere drinking a margarita. Follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.