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Originally published October 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 21, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Sammamish mom urges holiday from sugar on Halloween

Halloween: a time to buy those one-time-use costumes and gorge on sugary treats. Lots of sugary treats. Frankly, it's all enough to give...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Halloween: a time to buy those one-time-use costumes and gorge on sugary treats. Lots of sugary treats.

Frankly, it's all enough to give Corey Colwell-Lipson a stomachache. So much so that last Halloween, the Sammamish mother of two started asking some questions, which led to some phone calls. One year later, she's found herself leading a burgeoning local movement known as "Green Halloween."

Think: Al Gore meets "An Inconvenient Holiday." Or "The Devil Wears a Conscience." Whatever you call it, Colwell-Lipson's push to replace Halloween's trademark decadence with Earth-friendly traditions is gaining ground.

From hosting costume-recycling parties to handing out items like beeswax crayons, Colwell-Lipson's Web site, www.greenhalloween.org, offers tips on how to avoid the junk-food frenzy that comes Oct. 31.

"We're simply saying, think outside the candy box," said Colwell-Lipson, 35.

Neighborhoods such as the Issaquah Highlands are getting behind it, with residents hanging recycled "Proud to be a Green Halloween Home" signs in their windows.

All four Seattle-area Whole Foods stores are putting up "Green Halloween" flags in their aisles to guide shoppers to more healthful Halloween choices. And Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue paid to print 50,000 Green Halloween information cards — all done on recycled paper with soy ink.

Indeed, getting kids to think of anything other than sweetening their taste buds on Halloween, is, to put it mildly, challenging.

And it could be a tough sell.

The National Retail Federation forecasts Americans will spend more than $5 billion on the holiday this year. The biggest chunk of that will go toward costumes, and a projected $1.55 billion for candy.

Colwell-Lipson, a marital and family therapist on the Eastside, doesn't want to zap any fun out of the holiday, she said. And she's not preaching the path of ecovirtue.

"We just want parents and their children to ask: 'Where does this come from? Who made this? What's in it?' " she said.

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Take, for instance, high-fructose corn syrup, Halloween's inescapable demon. It's often among the first ingredients listed in many store-bought candies. The sugar substitute — made from corn and refined with genetically modified enzymes — has been blamed for fueling the childhood-obesity epidemic.

To be sure, indulging your sweet tooth in moderation won't hurt you, health experts say.

"Halloween as a holiday is not the major contributor to childhood obesity," said Kelly Van Horn, registered dietitian and certified diabetes specialist for Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. "It's the rest of the year when kids are eating the fast food, the candy, and not getting the exercise."

Colwell-Lipson gives parents tips on how to talk to their children about choosing alternatives. She suggests throwing costume parties where children pick from a list of charities and make a donation in their names. Her organization has partnered with Treeswing, a Seattle-based nonprofit devoted to creating healthful habits in children.

On her Web site, an interactive map shows ZIP codes where houses have decided to "go green" — meaning homeowners have pledged to hand out organic or noncandy items.

There are also tips on how to dispose of and compost unwanted candy, and games for trading candy toward "pumpkin points" that earn a special activity.

Colwell-Lipson stumbled upon her idea last year while taking her daughters trick-or-treating on the Eastside.

At house after house, she'd smile politely when people dropped candy into her children's pumpkins, feeling anxious all the while about managing the amount of sugar they'd eat later.

Then she noticed a few homes handed out non-candy treats such as soap bubbles and stickers. Colwell-Lipson was so thrilled that she shouted, "Thank you!" at the top of her lungs, and made a mental note to remember to trick-or-treat at those homes the next year.

But after winding through several streets in the dark, she soon forgot which homes were candy-free. She mentioned to a nearby parent, "Wouldn't it be great if there were a sign you could place on your door or window that notified trick-or-treaters that their upcoming treat would be healthy?"

Colwell-Lipson knows Green Halloween isn't for everyone. Truth be told, she said, it may take years for a mental shift to happen.

But she's encouraged by the response she's received so far. And plans are already in the works to sprinkle some "green" into other holidays.

"People are ready for this," she said. "You don't need 'tradition' to tell you how to celebrate. It's up to you to decide."

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or skrishnan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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