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Defending Popcorn: A Traditionalist Speaks Out [Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered]

Popcorn is an American original. Tried and true, part of its charm is the unmistakable scent as one walks into the movies theatre- invisible, aromatic oils rising above glass counters. The scent of popcorn can throw even the most well-intentioned Adkins dieter, or any holier-than-thou “I don’t eat in between meals” type into a carbohydrate feeding-frenzy, as moviegoers follow their noses to the counter.

Consider the unique requirements of the movie theatre snack. It must be easy to eat in the dark, requiring a uniformity of size and shape. Here, popcorn works. There is no raising each piece up to the light, trying to avoid the gross ones, the way there is with anise-laced black Juju Bees. Popcorn goes well with carbonated beverages like Coke (or in my case, Diet Coke) -  and having the discipline, timing, and skill to make the (Diet) Coke outlast the popcorn is an oft-ignored talent.

Popcorn can be automatically hand fed, one kernel at a time, if necessary, into the mouth. It allows for mindless munching – exactly the kind necessary when you are trying to absorb the all-important first few minutes of a movie.

Make no mistake: movie theatre popcorn has its critics. Dentists. Dietitions. Nut Growers of America. In the 90s, somebody let it slip that popcorn popped in coconut or canola oil, the way theatres do it, packs an overwhelming number of fat and calories, and some a-hole (not me) demanded healthier choices. Thus began the still current practice of offering large but fat-free baked soft pretzels. Meh.

I have not always been faithful to popcorn. I admit having succumb to the short-lived novelty of frozen yogurt machines and toppings at the theatre. That was no good -  the one time I tried it,  I spent more time trying to get the perfect bite (ratio of hot fudge to ice cream 1:4) than actually watching the film. I swore off the in-theatre-sundaes completely when, inevitably, the movie ended, lights came up, and my shirt had become spotted with vanilla and chocolate stains, rendering me not unlike the 101 Dalmatians I had just viewed. Plus, I was freezing.

Ice cream stains aren’t the worst of it. Ask any ER tech. Nacho cheese skin burns. Kids choking on a chunk of hot dog. All part of the price you pay for venturing outside of the realm of the reasonable, the traditional, the tried-and-true bucket o’ popcorn.

Importantly, popcorn lends itself to sharing. Try doing that with a steamy, flimsy plastic bowl of pasteurized cheese product. An order of nachos may render only say, 12 actual nacho chips, leading the sharers to keep track of the number of chips eaten, lest they be the object of scorn by the co-sharer, or be forced out into the lobby for more. The same goes for Milk Duds, in which the sharer is clued into the number of Milk Duds taken at any given turn by the weight and distinct sound of the Milk Duds sliding to and fro within the carton as it is handed back to the co-sharer. This kind of tit-for-tat tallying is distracting, causes tension, and can damn near ruin the family movie-going experience. This problem simply doesn’t exist with popcorn.  Because each serving of popcorn is made up of many, many kernels, it is easier to gauge the amount of food being taken by the co-sharer. You can simply eyeball it. If needed on can take swift action: removing the bucket from the co-sharers hands, relocating the bucket into the center of the seats, or using the “out of sight out of mind approach”: the bucket-on-the-floor technique, popular with weight watchers and recovering carb-addicts.

Join me next week, when we will psychoanalyze our friends and family by examining their various popcorn eating styles.

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featured image credit: Little Zey