Popcorn: Cinema's Worst Enemy
An admittedly irrational screed against the snack.
"What about Poirot?" I said.
"Exactly, you illustrate my point; when people do, it's invariably either Hercule Poirot or Tintin—both of whom are fictional, I'll point out, which tells you something. Secondly, Belgium is not a real country. It's a Frankenstein's monster with some Walloons bolted onto the Flemish."
"Thirdly, Belgiums started World War I."
"Isn't that taking it a bit far?" I said.
"I mean," said Harry, "admittedly, it's because Germany invaded. But Belgium was still there at the start, so it was involved."
I came away impressed. Irrational hatred isn't meaningless, Harry proved, as long as you're thorough in gathering evidence to support your subjective loathing. I decided to test myself—to actually sample the stuff. When Jeffrey Steingarten started his position as Vogue's food correspondent, he initiated a program to rid himself of silly phobias, which in his case included Greek cuisine, Indian desserts, and kimchi, among others. He tried each thing eight times and reported success. So I drove to two grocery stores near my house, picked up a bag of kernels and a couple different kinds of microwave popcorn, and set to work. Either I'd outgrow my childhood dislike for popcorn or emerge secure in my convictions.
I started with the instant popcorn and kept a notebook on the counter. For Orville Redenbacher's "Buttery Salt and Cracked Pepper" flavor, I noted under appearance, "milky white, speckled with black dots (fleas?)." The aroma wasn't appetizing, either. A bit like burnt magazine subscription cards. The flavor was gruesome. Take the same burnt cards and use them to clean out a pepper shaker. It made my mouth hurt. Then I loaded Redenbacher's "Gourmet Movie Theater Butter Popcorn" into the microwave and lowered my head. As soon as the smell hit me, my nerves tingled. The stuff was post-apocalyptic—road food by Cormac McCarthy. Anti-nature, anti-decency. The popped kernels looked like someone peed on them. I gagged loudly. "God, are you alright?" my wife said from the other room. I tasted one bite, threw the bag into the trash, and sealed the trash bag inside a second trash bag. Without my asking, my wife opened three windows in the kitchen.
I'll give credit to Newman's Own "Organic Microwave Popcorn with Light Butter": It looks like little fluffy clouds. The flavor isn't terrible, merely waxy. The batch of popcorn I made on the stove, with olive oil and a little bit of sea salt, had some value: The squirrels ate it after I dumped it in the woods.
I scribbled my conclusion in the notebook and I stand by it: Popcorn's awful stuff. This probably will offend some people. It's Academy Award season, and nothing's more American than hitching on a buttered nosebag while applauding Meryl Streep. Well, I enjoy Hollywood too, so allow me to suggest an alternative for your Oscars-watching party: nachos. Cheesy, scrumptious nachos: my culinary one true love. When I was a kid, we didn't eat in restaurants much, but a good report card meant my sister or I could choose anyplace in town for a dinner out, and I always picked Benny's, a dive bar near the train station, because they had the best nachos around. Loaded with cheese, adorned with specks of steak, served with a scoop of sour cream or guacamole, nachos aren't good for you. They also cool quickly, and they're revolting eaten cold. But I eat them cold all the time. Love can be irrational, too.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.