Cake
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    • I'd never before heard of the huge popularity at one time of cactus candy, which nearly drove the Visnaga Cactus into extinction at one point. But as shared in Atlas Obscura, a savvy businessman by the name of Dominick Donofrio saw in the deserts of the Southwest a business opportunity:

      Arriving in Phoenix, Dominick went to work at his older brother’s booming confectionary. But he yearned to make a mark of his own. “It came to my mind that millions of dollars could be made out of cactus,” he would later recall. For a decade, a scheme combining cactus and candy “preyed on my mind until I could see myself counting the money.” In 1905, Dominick bought the store from his brother and realized his vision right away.

      Donofrio was a master of marketing, using exciting advertisements, packaging copy, and the mystical mythos of the American West to move product:

      By all accounts, the gimmickry paid off. Mail-order business soared, and Donofrio’s new treat popped up in candy stores across the nation. The company produced 15,000 pounds of the stuff in 1920 alone.

      There were imitators, but none had the success of Donofrio. If you're asking why, apparently it's because cactus candy didn't taste that great. Without the compelling storytelling of Donofrio, the appeal just wasn't there. And then the visnaga cactus, once thought of as being inexhaustible, became more scarce:

      The trend continued unabated, and by the late 1920s, in California at least, the desert’s supply of visnaga no longer looked so inexhaustible. “Our Sweet Tooth Eating Up Cactus,” one paper reported, echoing a lament among Los Angeles-area garden clubs that automobile access into the desert was causing the demise of a rare botanical treasure. “Barrel cactus on the deserts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties is being taken out by the truckloads daily for the manufacture of cactus candy,”
      railed one early conservationist.

      It's a fascinating story and definitely one worth checking out. You can still buy cactus candy today, although it's made from Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit, not endangered cacti themselves.

    • Hahaha, some things never change!

      On top of that, Donofrio’s promotional materials spun an elaborate, fake origin story for both candy and proprietor. According to “Toltec legend,” the Sun God imprisoned a beloved maiden’s soul inside the visnaga to protect her purity. This legend, claimed Donofrio’s, then inspired a Toltec wedding ritual, where prospective grooms had to make cactus candy by ripping out thorns with their teeth and crystallizing pulp with wild honey.

      Both eBay and Netflix spun elaborate, fake origin stories and it's fascinating to hear them tell how they did it and what makes a great origin story.