While the Northeast recovers from superstorm Sandy, how about a sweet diversion?

They’ll be crying out for “trick or treat” tomorrow night, but we all know that’s really just code for “hand over the candy.” And for many, the candy haul is quite substantial.

According to epidemiologist Donna Arnett of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, in a typical Halloween haul “the average U.S. child collects between 3,500 and 7,000 calories from candy.”

And while Halloween may be a candy bonanza, it’s by no means the only way we Americans indulge in a ahem … healthy candy fix.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American consumes about 25 pounds of candy a year. Assuming that this number only applies to people over 10 and under 75, we’re talking about almost 250 million people and that extrapolates into a total candy consumption of almost 3 million metric tons of the sweet stuff.

Whew, that seems like a lot of candy, doesn’t it? To get a better sense, here’s another way to look at it.

Candy’s gasoline equivalent

In the final analysis whether we are eating candy, a pound of beef, or a head of broccoli, our primary motivation is caloric — to get the amount of energy we need to do the things we do, like, say, moving an arm, walking or biking to the office, or typing a post for TheGreenGrok.

The fact that many of us consume more calories than we actually need in a given day is an inconvenient fact of modern life, but nevertheless it all starts from a need for energy to survive.

Turns out, candy is a pretty good source of calories. A survey of various forms of candy (chocolate, gummy bears, Pez, candy corn) at Calorieking.com suggests that the average pound of candy has between 1,800 and 2,600 calories — for this calculation I’ll use 2,000 calories as average. (Note: A food calorie is actually one kilocalorie or 4.184 kilojoules.)

So how much is 2,000 calories?

A calories-to-calories comparison

Well, most of us are familiar with driving here and there, and we have a pretty good sense of how far a gallon of gasoline at about $3.50 a pop these days will take us — for the average American car about 24 miles. So let’s do a little comparison.

A gallon of gas weighs about six pounds and contains about 130 million Joules (130,000 kilojoules) or about 30,000 calories. So here are some candy-to-gasoline equivalents.

Candy amount is equivalent to Gasoline amount
1 pound of candy 0.06 gallons
American kid’s Halloween haul 0.1 – 0.2 gallons
Average American’s candy intake 1.6 gallons
Total American candy consumption 400 gallons

Dollar-to-dollar comparison reveals a gasoline bargain

Doesn’t that just make you want to down some candy even more? Now let me lay out some numbers I find even more interesting.

On the basis of a quick and furtive tour of the candy aisle at my local grocery store, I estimate that a pound of candy costs about $4. By comparison, a pound of gasoline (remember there’s six pounds in a gallon) only costs about 60 cents. Sounds like gasoline’s a bargain.

But we don’t buy gasoline by the pound. So what about the caloric value? Well, a dollar will buy you about 500 candy calories but at the pump that very same dollar will get you 8,600 calories of gasoline. Even more of a bargain.

Isn’t it surprising? With all that goes into getting a gallon of gasoline from some hole in the ground to your gas tank, on a per calorie basis that gallon of gas is more than 15 times cheaper than a pound of Skittles. Could government subsidies have something to do with it? (More on the cost of gasoline.) Maybe, but let’s not forget that many of the calories you get in your candy come to you courtesy of a federal handout in the form of farm subsidies.

And then there’s the whole addiction issue. Many would agree that our nation has an addiction to sweets as well as an addiction, at least according to President George W. Bush, to gasoline. Do government subsidies, which suppress prices, have anything to do with it? I suppose an argument could be made that such is not the case for candy. Many of us struggle with a kind of sweet-tooth addictionchocolate, it turns out, stimulates both pleasure-anticipation neurons and food-reward neurons, and other sugary sweets can have an opiatelike effect.

But why are we addicted to gasoline? I have a strong suspicion it is not because we have a sweet tooth. Could the fact that it’s cheaper than candy have anything to do with it? Something to think about while you’re gobblin’ down your candy this Halloween. Bottoms up.