Culture Junkie: On popcorn, movies and the pros and cons of ‘flavoring’
Who doesn’t love popcorn?
Especially buttered popcorn.
Some of us even like butter “flavored” popcorn.
I am one of them, I confess, even though I once worked at a factory in Los Angeles where artificial butter “flavoring” was manufactured about once a month on the Oil and Mayonnaise line that was my regular assignment for over a year. Part of my job on the production line was to bottle the “flavoring” and load it into boxes for movie theaters all over the country.
I also helped make the stuff, assisting with the assembly and mixing of ingredients.
Which means that, yeah, I actually know what’s in it.
More on that shortly.
Many frequent filmgoers cannot imagine watching a movie without popcorn. To us, popcorn and films are linked so deeply that, like Pavlov’s dog, we start craving popcorn the moment we begin considering going to see a movie. It’s called “conditioning,” and they who conditioned us did their job well. We know we’ve been trained this way, but for the most part, we don’t care, because we get to eat popcorn, and that’s that.
Personally, I think the greatest innovation at theaters in the last few years is not reserved seating, and it’s not recliner seats, and it’s not beer and wine or nachos served by ninjas during the show.
It’s the refillable bag of popcorn.
Our local Boulevard Cinemas 14, when you purchase a large popcorn, will refill it once that day. I rarely leave a film during the screening, but I will head back to the candy counter after the show to get the bag topped off or refilled before heading home.
My wife will often greet me, when I’ve gone to a film she elected to stay home from, “Did you bring me popcorn?”
I almost always do.
In the last month, Rohnert Park’s Reading Cinema has actually implemented what they call the “Endless Popcorn” bucket, a carboard bucket thay will refill as many times as you like, on any single day, for a flat $6 dollars.
It’s a popcorn addict’s dream.
It is hard to imagine, but there was a time when movie exhibitors disliked the idea of popcorn. They were concerned about the mess, the extra work and, yes, the fact that handling and eating popcorn might distract people from becoming thoroughly engaged by the film being screened.
Anthropologists suggest that humans have been cultivating and eating different varieties of popcorn for millennia. Initially, it was prepared by holding metal baskets filled with corn kernels over an open fire. But it wasn’t until 1885, and Chicago inventor Charles Cretors’ patenting of the steam-powered Popcorn Maker, and his deployment of numerous street carts equipped with the devices, that popcorn became a snack of mass consumption alongside roasted nuts and hot dogs. After movie theaters evolved from crude nickelodeons to ornate movie palaces, owners fought the intrusion of snacks until the Great Depression, when the low-cost of selling popcorn proved considerably more profitable than selling tickets to silent movies. As improvements in popcorn-making led to better poppers, the street machines moved into theater lobbies, and a tradition was born that continues until today.
At some point, people started pouring melted butter over the stuff, then sprinkling it all with salt, and calling it delicious.