Let's hear it for chocolate

Posted: Feb 12, 2007 12:00 AM
Let's hear it for chocolate

I used to be addicted to cigarettes. Back when I was smoking, I didn’t consider myself hooked. It was simply something I enjoyed. Or so I told myself until that fateful day when I tried to go cold turkey -- so as not to be a poor role model for my little son -- and discovered five minutes later, as I was lighting up, that I couldn’t.

The only reason I was able to kick the nicotine habit, I’m convinced, was because I signed up for a program of aversion therapy. As a result, it’s now been 33 years since I was last a Marlboro man.

I have heard from alcoholics that it’s far harder to give up cigarettes than booze. Which only makes sense. After all, how much can you drink before you fall on your rump? But I could, and did, smoke from the time I woke up in the morning until I went to sleep at night.

Fortunately, I never got involved with illegal drugs. Of course the downside to that is if I had, it would be a lot easier for me to get on “Oprah” to plug my book. It’s hard to believe, I know, but Ms. Winfrey simply won’t have me on to describe one man’s dramatic, awe-inspiring, battle to face life without coffin nails.

But, of all the addictions one could have, I would think the one with the strongest stranglehold would be chocolate.

The thing is, unlike booze, it actually tastes good. Unlike tobacco, it smells good, and it doesn’t make your breath smell like an open sewer. Unlike cocaine, you don’t wind up turning your nose into a toxic waste dump. And, unlike heroin, you don’t have to turn yourself into a human pin cushion.

The only bad thing is that it can make you fat. But lots of things can make you fat, and none of them tastes as good as chocolate. I have even heard a rumor, possibly started by the candy industry, that suggests chocolate is a surefire aphrodisiac.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised that I and several million other Americans don’t each weigh 700 pounds. Because I find chocolate so tempting, I rarely indulge. If I gave in, I’d simply have to stop writing. For one thing, I wouldn’t want to waste the time. For another, as short as my arms are, if I ever truly capitulated to my sweet tooth, I wouldn’t be able to reach past my stomach to reach the computer keyboard.

This confession shouldn’t be taken as a tribute to all forms of chocolate. I don’t like mousse, for instance. I barely recognize it as being related to the cocoa family.

One of the major disappointments of my adult life came years ago when I wrote a nostalgic piece about going to the movies when I was a kid. I mentioned the happy memory of chewing Milk Duds while sitting through a double bill at the Picfair. At the time the piece was published, I had no idea that Milk Duds were still being produced. But shortly thereafter, a case of them arrived at my home with a very nice thank-you note from the company rep.

I recall wondering how long it would take me to finish them off. Six months? A year? Ten years? Did I, in fact, have a treasure trove that would last me a lifetime? Well, as it happens, they lasted less than a day. I opened a package and popped one in my mouth. It was as if all of my taste buds had packed their little bags and moved south for the winter. It was like chewing on a plastic marble. It must have had the chocolate content of hay. Until that moment, I’d never been able to imagine why a candy company would saddle one of its products with such an derogatory name. It would be like a car company putting out a new line and calling it the Lemon. But, after just one bite, I realized how apt it was. Duds, indeed!

I passed the candy out to the kids in the neighborhood. Like people born in the years since mad scientists decided to breed scent out of flowers and flavor out of tomatoes, the little tykes didn’t know what they were missing.

Recently, while musing on the subject, I began comparing chocolates that come wrapped in paper and those very high-priced items that arrive in fancy boxes. I know that on special occasions, you wouldn’t think of trying to foist off a bag of assorted candy bars on your loved one, but was it, I wondered, because of their comparable quality or simply because of the packaging?

I decided to conduct one of my unscientific polls. I e-mailed my usual crowd, asking about their preference. However, before sharing the results, I’ll admit that I assumed men would vote for drug store candy and that women, who tend to put a great deal of stock in ribbons and trappings, would go overwhelmingly for the candy sold by the pound in pretty boxes.

Now, admittedly, the data is sketchy. Only 39 people responded. No doubt the rest of them were too busy stuffing their faces with candy to take a measly two seconds to respond. However, all that being said, the results were very surprising. Of the 24 men who weighed in, 18 actually preferred the fancy stuff. Of the 15 women, eight went fancy, while seven went plain.

Some people were very specific. They didn’t want me to think they didn’t have any standards at all, but merely required that the stuff be brown. Several people singled out See’s, while Godiva didn’t get a single mention. Among those who voted for the cheaper confections, Snickers, Three Musketeers and Heath Bars, got the most votes.

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of the fact that men voted for fancy 18-6, while only eight of 15 women did. I’m not sure what it says about the state of American manhood that they refuse to acknowledge that M&M Peanuts are the best chocolate candy in the universe, and that they apparently prefer bon bons and nougats that go for $15-a-pound. But, whatever it is, it’s not a good sign.

Finally, unlike greedy athletes and celebrities who have to be paid millions of dollars before they’ll say nice things about cars, breakfast cereals and golf clubs, my endorsement of M&M Peanuts comes straight from the heart, not to mention the stomach.

So if the wonderful folks at Masterfoods USA, Inc., who manufacture the tasty little beauties, decide they wish to say it, as they say, with candy, I’m in the book.