I don’t normally go to the gourmet market in town, because they refuse to stock decent organic produce no matter how much I complain, the prices in general are stultifying, and twice I got food poisoning from their hummus. But they do have one redeeming quality: a twinkly, magnifico candy and chocolate department. You can buy beautiful homemade chocolates by the piece or by the pound, including peanut butter cups the size of hockey pucks. They sell retro candy like horehound drops, teaberry gum, circus peanuts, and Peeps in every flavor and color. But my favorite? The giant island of bulk bins, containing everything from burnt peanuts, sesame sticks and gummi worms to Reese’s pieces, yogurt-covered raisins and dried apricots. Mix and match, all for the same price per pound.


Today the chocolate craving called me there. I got a plastic bag, scooped in a few dark chocolate-covered peppermint balls and miniature peanut butter cups. I looked at it, thinking, “Now, that’s just too much chocolate. If I eat that I’m going to have hot flashes until my skin roasts and probably will go into convulsions while I’m driving. That would be bad, although death by chocolate would not be the worst way to go.”

Then I remembered something I learned from a holistic nutrition class. If you balance flavors like spicy and mild, light and heavy, and sweet and salty, you’re less likely to have cravings and more likely to feel satisfied. That’s probably why many women’s ultimate PMS food is chocolate-covered pretzels.

So I figured I’d add some salted mixed nuts to my chocolates. Weird, maybe, but that’s how I roll. Creativity knows no media; it just wants expression. Who knew peanuts and chocolate went so well together until that first, fictional collision? (“Hey, you got peanut butter on my chocolate!”) Also, I’d get the added bonus of slowing down all that speedy carbo-fuel with protein from the nuts. I mixed, I matched, I played. Then hit the register.

The cashier held up my bag, and instead of displaying subtle amusement at my snack combo, she grimaced as if it were something my dog had left behind.

“You mixed this?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s all the same price, right?”

Her face didn’t change. “It’s the nuts.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Nuts and chocolates, they should be in separate bags.”

I’d combed every inch of that blissful bulk aisle as I’d selected items for my goodie sack and nowhere, not next to the gummi sharks or the burnt peanuts or the chocolate-covered pretzels did I see a single sign indicating the apartheid situation that existed between the nuts and the chocolate.

“But I didn’t…”

“That’s the law,” she said brusquely, setting my bag on her combo scanner/scale. “Nuts get taxed.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s the way food items are broken down.” Foods that are unadulterated, she explained, like the nuts, get taxed, and others, like the chocolates, don’t.

“But the nuts are adulterated,” I said. “They’re roasted in oil, and then…”

“Salted,” she said, nodding.

I backed down and paid my stupid half-assed half-tax. But since I’m the type of person who has to know everything about everything, I looked up the New York State tax code when I got home.

And it’s ridiculous. Really, I should have known. Some years ago, a friend was training as a new hire at a local supermarket, and having some trouble understanding what was tax-exempt and what wasn’t. Exasperated, his supervisor finally said, “If it goes in you, it’s not taxable. If it goes on you, it is.” (My friend practically made his supervisor’s head explode by asking in which category condoms would be placed.)

But I think Albany’s gotten more brain-dead since then. For instance, marshmallows are tax-exempt. Licorice is not. Cookies are exempt. Soft drinks are not. Nuts are exempt. (Hah! The cashier was wrong!) But chocolate (except for baking chocolate) is not. So when I return to this market, I must put my nuts (adulterated or not, as long as they’re not coated with candy or sugar or heated), uncoated pretzels and marshmallows in one bag and my chocolates and candy-coated nuts or pretzels in another. So apartheid rule remains strong in the candy aisle.

You know, if it made sense, I’d be more understanding. If completely unadulterated food, like fruit and unroasted, unsalted nuts was exempt and anything processed was taxable, owing to the extra labor involved, I’d get it. I’d gladly separate my goodies and pay what I owed.

But this is just plain nuts.