Further thoughts on candy and flour

I’ve been thinking about what I posted this morning about candy and flour and the Washington State Department of Revenue, and I realize that I just didn’t say enough about how wacky the whole thing seems to me.

One initial reaction I had to this idea that candy without flour will be taxed and candy with flour will not, was how ridiculously arbitrary it seems. I mean, why make that distinction?

My first theory was that, perhaps, this has to do with the very definition of candy. Maybe, I thought, candy with flour, by definition, is not real candy, and I could just envision this scene at a conference table somewhere in the offices of the Department of Revenue, around which sat the director, her staff, and a team of lawyers, and one of the lawyers said something like, “You know, we better not risk calling something candy that isn’t candy, because we could be vulnerable to a lawsuit.”

Well, Merriam-Webster doesn’t say anything about flour at all…

Pronunciation: \ˈkan-dē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural candies
Etymology: Middle English sugre candy, part translation of Middle French sucre candi, from Old French sucre sugar + Arabic qandī candied, from qand crystallized sugar
Date: 15th century
1 : crystallized sugar formed by boiling down sugar syrup
2 a : a confection made with sugar and often flavoring and filling b : a piece of such confection
3 : something that is pleasant or appealing in a light or frivolous way

…and neither does Wikipedia.

Then, I took a different tack.

It can’t be on nutritional grounds, could it? Cuz, suggesting that something is healthier because it contains flour…

Any product that lists flour as an ingredient on the nutritional facts label is not taxable as candy, the agency points out. Flour is “made from grain such as wheat, rice, corn, rye, oats, and barley.”

…reminds me way too much of the Ronald Reagan-era ‘ketchup is a vegetable‘ claim.

And then I remembered that the Bellingham Herald article on the candy tax stated (my emphasis in bold):

Candy subject to the tax can be made with “sugar, honey, or other natural or artificial sweeteners combined with chocolate, fruits, nuts, or other ingredients or flavorings and formed into bars, drops, or pieces,” according to information from the Department of Revenue.

So, the nutrition reason myth is busted. Candy has fruits and nuts, so it must be healthy!

Reminds me of…

Footnote: Just a little more digging and I did actually figure out the origin of the ‘flour or no flour’ distinction. Thanks to an article in the Chicago Tribune from August 2009, back when Illinois was preparing to implement their candy tax, it seems that my theory about lawyers was closer to the truth:

Illinois is hardly the first state to take on the “if it’s got flour, it’s not candy” conundrum. The language was copied straight from a model law drafted by a multi-state organization called the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, which aims to makes sales-tax rules more uniform across the nation.

Scott Peterson, executive director of the Nashville-based group, said the organization struggled over how to define candy for tax purposes because many products that some states saw as cookies, other states saw as candy bars. “It finally came to us throwing up our hands and saying, ‘What in the world can we use as a definition that would be relatively straightforward and easy for a retailer to discern?'” Peterson said.

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