Perhaps you've already read this mildly viral CNN story about last week's great Skittle spillage of Wisconsin. It’s quite a tale. Last week, a truckload of red Skittles gushed out of, um, a truck, and onto the highways of rural Wisconsin, where the the candies made the roads sticky with the syrup of high fructose corn.
Now, it’s ballooned into a whole episode. Skittles manufacturer Mars isn't quite sure about how these defective candies—faulty simply because they were missing the “S” marking that's on most Skittles—ended up at the specific factory that the truck was originating from. After all, Mars designated a certain number of its factories across the country as places where farmers can use the company's unwanted candies as byproducts for cattle feed. That factory wasn't on the list.
Nonetheless, much of the fixation around this plainly bizarre story has centered on the fact that cows get fed candy as feed. Hasn’t this been common knowledge for a few years now?
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Feeding cows candy is a decades-old practice that permeated mainstream knowledge right around 2012 with the ungainly surge of corn prices, forcing farmers to announce they were looking to veritable alternatives. In the last five years, candy has become a particularly more affordable alternative to corn, because the sugar and fat content of the candy gives them weight and sustenance that the cows easily breakdown. At times, they're blended with more traditional forms of feed, like hay. They're the cheapest of cheap carbs.
Using unwanted candy as cattle feed is a particularly savvy solution to curbing food waste, too, for the candy could otherwise end up in a landfill or dumping site. The world doesn't need more of that.
Historically, cattle feed can be much of anything, so long as the feed provides adequate nutrition that makes cows healthy and hearty. Their diets can consist of citrus rinds or gummy bears, candy corn or limestone, crab guts or marshmallows.
So, now you know. Does the fact this is becoming wider knowledge demand a change in nomenclature, as Eater asks, to "candy-fed" beef, in the vein of grass-fed and grain-fed beef? Interesting question! I'm not sure. That's for another time, folks.
Did you know cattle get fed candy? Is this news to you, too?
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.