My Problem with Sour Patch Kids

When American consumer health and safety parts ways with legality

John Blesso
7 min readFeb 26, 2023

Fifteen years ago, I was minding my own business, just cleaning up after a party I had hosted when I found a family-sized bag of Sour Patch Kids. I’ve always been more of a savory/spicy/salty guy, but after dinner that night I carried a small handful into my living room where I lay back on my couch and cued up a movie, popping one in my mouth just as the lion roared.

It was revelatory. I loved how it instantly irrigated my mouth with a sour sensation that faded into sweet. Before the end of the opening sequence, I scurried back into the kitchen for another handful, now employing a technique: I placed one back-down on my tongue, its torso perfectly sandwiching up against my pallet as I slid my tongue back and forth beneath its sandy underside until I had buffered off all of its sour coating before mashing the remaining gooeyness. I liked the Blues best. Then, in quick succession, came Red, Orange and Yellow, and then — to the same extent that I preferred Blue above Red — came Green. After eating the last one, I stared down at my empty hand. Then, like a cat that suddenly decides it needs to be in the next room, I sprang back to the kitchen and began pawing at the bag. But I decided — with absolute firmness — that I would have FIVE MORE and then THAT’S IT.

I picked out five Blues.

And when they were gone, I returned my attention to my movie.

Sixty seconds later, I was back in the kitchen, blocking out a memory from 1994. Back then, I still smoked cigarettes, having begun as a party-smoker during my teens, and then transitioning into a durable habit of just three or four a day. I particularly liked to smoke when I wrote, but once I started writing in the morning, I also started smoking in the morning. And once you start smoking in the morning, you have effectively switched your party-smoker status over to life support. One night, when an early brush of my teeth (a previously successful trick to ensure that the after-dinner cigarette would be the last) failed to work, I faced up to the fact that I had become a smoker-smoker. But I didn’t WANT to be a smoker-smoker. And so I decided, right on the spot, that I could no longer have a cigarette until after lunch. The following morning, I gamely sat down before my Smith-Corona Word Processor 2000 to write, only to experience a needling chaos that left me unable to string my thoughts together, leaving me staring at the blinking cursor.

At least Jack Nicholson in The Shining managed to type “All work and no play leaves Jack a dull boy” over and over.

My fingers, seeming to work on their own, flipped open the pack, and then flicked the lighter, and then I sucked in that little butane flourish that precedes the smoke… With lightning speed, that nicotine ironed out the tangles in my brain, restoring my train of thought with a cozying sense of relief. Only once the wolves were at bay, I was hating myself. Tom Waits had just released an LP called The Black Rider, based on a play written by wife-manslaughtering junkie, William S. Burroughs. I had been playing the crap out of it and one line from a song called “Crossroads” had lodged in my head:

Time to stop chippying around and kidding yourself. Kid, you’re hooked — heavy as lead.

Quite aside from the health implications of being a smoker-smoker, it rocked me to have a firm decision so blithely overridden — as though someone or something else had stormed the cockpit.

I didn’t like that.

In fact, I didn’t like that so much that I decided, right on the spot, that I had to quit altogether.

(Sometimes there are upsides to living with mild, baseline anxiety and being a bit of a control freak.)

I drink and have done other drugs but have proven incapable of using these two legal substances moderately.

Multiple studies have shown nicotine to be more addictive than cocaine and heroin, and even though I’ve never tried cocaine or heroin I can’t tell you how much I believe those studies. Also, what does it say that sensing my control being taken from me was enough to scare me away from cigarettes, but not enough to keep me from carrying the whole damn bag of Sour Patch Kids over to the couch? Furthermore, I smoked cigarettes for seven or eight years before becoming a full-blown addict, whereas Sour Patch Kids hooked me right out of the gate. My movie rolled but it felt like something going by outside a car window as my tongue maniacally sanded them down, one by one, taking on all comers.

Time to stop chippying around and kidding yourself. Kid, you’re hooked — heavy as lead.

When they were gone, I sat up on the edge of the couch and poured out all of the loose sour crystals onto my coffee table. It would be fun to say that I then pulled out a credit card to cut them in a line, but I did hockey-stick them into a mound with my pinky before licking the pad of my index finger and transferring them all to my tongue. Once those crystals had sorrowfully dissolved, I tore open the bag to lick the inside but tasted nothing.

Then I just sat there, jacked out of my mind on sugar and self-loathing.

It took forever to fall asleep and the following morning I woke with a pulsing pain behind my forehead. I made coffee but could barely taste it across my fried taste buds. Nevertheless, I did learn an impactful lesson:

Never again put yourself in the presence of a full, family-sized bag.

And that’s EXACTLY what I’ve done. I’ve managed to limit my consumption to the occasional child-size bag, purchased at gas station mini-marts, usually when driving outside of New York State — perhaps to reinforce that Sour Patch Kids are not for daily consumption. (Or maybe I’m like those wackadoo married people who kid themselves that it’s not cheating when they bang someone outside their home state.) I consciously try to save them for those times when I’ve been a really good boy and deserve a reward. My current technique is to leave the bag between my legs on the car seat and then not look down. That way, whenever I pull a Blue it becomes its own little surprise. (Like the difference between hearing a song you love on the radio as opposed to playing it yourself.) But whenever I pull a Green, I set it down on the dash, lining them up like bodies in a morgue and saving them for last. The Greens are like methadone — they allow me to come down off the bag, and once I’ve eaten the last Green, I don’t feel so bereft as I imagine I would feel had I eaten a Blue last. And so I’ve successfully worked with Sour Patch Kids what I failed to do with cigarettes — maintain iron-clad guardrails about when and how often I can consume them. Because as Robert De Niro famously said in Cape Fear, “A man needs a vice.”

But I can’t believe these things are legally sold to children. Because I’m a grown man — a man who further never had a sweet tooth — and I literally can’t control myself in the face of them. Am I really just a statistical outlier? I must be. Otherwise, there would be stories about jonesing ten-year-olds stealing from their parents just to keep themselves in Kids; Fox News would run fear-mongering segments about strung-out tweens turning tricks for five bucks a pop behind the dumpster at the Mobil Mart just to get their fix. Nevertheless, mad food scientists are today mixing and tweaking ingredients to spike flavors with the intention of leaving us unsatisfied and wanting more — something our increasingly obese and diabetic country needs like a hole in the head. And in the event that an actual hole in the head is what you’re really in the market for, well, you can legally do that, too. Because in the United States, Legality and Safety are two separate things. For so long as things like booze, cigarettes, assault weapons, gambling and regressive taxation are perfectly legal, there is no informed, respectable argument as to why drugs like Psilocybin and MDMA — both of which I’ve used, enjoyed and benefited from without incident, and which have proven effective in treating a wide array of ailments ranging from PTSD to addiction — are not. Rather, it seems like any product that enjoys respectability (or a vast and well-funded lobbying arm) can remain legal despite the documented harm it continues to cause, even to people who aren’t its active users.

It’s rough out there. And it’s getting rougher — a person needs a vice…

I’m not kidding when I tell you that my mouth has been shooting Bellagio jets of saliva throughout the writing of this column. And now that I’m nearly done, I’m feeling like a very good boy. In fact, I’m feeling like such a good boy that I should go visit my parents. They live in New Jersey.

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John Blesso

John Blesso is a writer, performer and builder fascinated by food, politics, and our collective refusal to stop doing crazy dumb shit. He lives in Beacon, NY.