Pass on the Popcorn and Skip the Cheese Dip

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
The LA Times is reporting that Theatre Snacks (are) Rarely a Healthy Choice**. Really? Can this be true? Give me a break. Is this supposed to shock and surprise anyone? We’ve all known this for years. Who out there can claim that they believe taco chips smothered in “cheese” or popcorn swimming in artery clogging “butter” are health foods? Sometimes I feel that the media thinks we’re all a bunch of idiots.

The days, however, of sitting down with a box of popcorn and a soda are long gone. If you were to pay a visit to your local multiplex today, you will be overwhelmed by the number of snack choices available to you. Movie goers can feast on the standard popcorn and nachos, dill pickles, soda, coffee, fruit flavoured sugary drinks, Goobers, gumballs, chocolates and any number of jujube type candies. But that’s not all folks. You can also get burgers, pizza, cinnamon buns, hotdogs, French fries (or poutine…). And for those health conscious folks, veggies with dip and bottled water. At the annual ShoWest convention, a theatre industry showcase for everything from snacks to rug shampoo to the newest blockbuster, booths try to entice theatre owners to stock Slim Jims, Crunch’n’Munch, and something called “Pucker Powder, a sour-powder dispenser…to create edible sugar tubes”. Oh god… I remember the days when it used to be dinner AND a movie, not dinner AT the movie.

I’ve made my feelings about this plethora of popcorn replacements known in a previous post. Essentially I’m not happy about it although I’m willing to change my stance somewhat and allow the healthier option of veggies and dip. My only concern is the “crunch factor” – most raw veggies tend to be quite crisp and dense and therefore will result in a loud “crunch” when bitten into. Popcorn, nachos and twizzlers don’t do that.

The big concern at ShoWest this year, according to the article, is the ongoing debate about what oil to cook popcorn in, and the term “trans fats” pops up repeatedly.

Theater owners are determined to give audiences a thoroughly modern experience, with stadium seats, surround-sound speakers and 3-D digital projectors. But when it comes to peddling "Star Wars"-era junk food, exhibitors remain stuck in an artery-clogging time warp, health experts say: Although concessions are largely trans-fat free, the caldron-sized portions are still loaded with toxic saturated fats and tooth-rotting sugars.

Despite a study in the early 1990s which told us how unhealthy the standard coconut oil was, many theatres have not switched over to the somewhat healthier canola oil. And, it seems, some who had switched previously are considering going back to coconut oil. Consumers should be aware that despite the claims of many concession stands that their popcorn offerings are transfat free, this is a bit misleading. Sure the oil does not contain the artificially manufactured transfats, it’s loaded with saturated fat and really cannot be considered healthy. And while dieticians and doctors would prefer that they cut out the fat, and reduce the size of the portions, theatre owners claim they’re only responding to customer demand.

And if you thought the popcorn (with or without the butter-flavoured topping) was bad, one of the challenges faced by concession owners at the moment is reducing the amount of transfats in the cheese sauce used for nachos. According to Larry Etter, president of the National Association of Concessionaires, “They need the oil to hold the cheese particles together”. Um…cheese particles? Ick. No more nachos and cheese dip for me thanks.

Essentially, none of us go to the theatre for a health conscious meal or to work out (although I suppose you could do a circuit around the lobby before the film starts). However, is it really up to the theatre owners and concession employees to look out for our health? Certainly they should be offering healthier choices given the obesity epidemic in North America. However, ultimately it is the consumers responsibility to make the appropriate choices when choosing a movie snack. Have the popcorn if you wish, but do you really need the jumbo bucket with extra extra butter layered in the middle? Sure, it’s only twenty five cents more than the small bag but choosing the smaller “individual” serving size, your heart will thank you in the end.

**Note that the article seems to know be available only to registered users of the LA Times online. If you wish to register and read the article, it is free to register. However, the article doesn’t really have a whole lot new to say so I’d give it a pass.


Jocelyn said...

Wow, it's my first stop-in here, but I love your clarity and passion...and I love that the U.S. isn't like some European countries that still allow cigarette smoking in the theatre. Eek.

Karen said...

Hi Jocelyn! Thanks for stopping by. Being a former smoker, I can no longer stand the smell of cigarettes. The thought of having to sit there for two hours while inhaling the toxic fumes of someone puffing away is revolting.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

And have you noticed that the concessions often offer free refills if you get the large (read dumptruck-sized) popcorn or drink? Anyone who gets one of those behemoths and still wants a refill has larger issues to deal with.

The thought of smelling a hotdog in the row behind me at the theatre is pretty nauseating.

Sheamus the... said...

i work in a movie concession stand...ugh...that food makes you sick because i would eat it for dinner sometimes. Ugh.

Gardenia said...

I confess, when I go to the movie -beeeg tub of popcorn with butter, please. The news about cheese particles - what the ???? Now, the little theatre that showed ancient films in Wyoming prided itself on real butter - heck if my arteries are clogged, I would just soon have them clogged on the real thing. I think the veggies are a good idea - maybe -

* (asterisk) said...

There are very few theater snacks that I find acceptable. Carrot cake is one. Non-crunchy, pre-opened packs of chocolate are okay, too. That's all.

Anonymous said...

Veggies and dip? That would stop me from ever going to the theater again if my local cinema started serving that. It's the "crunch factor" you mentioned. Sorry but nothing annoys me more than someone eating with their mouth open and chomping on something loud in the theater... especially during a suspenseful scene when you are hanging off the edge of your seat. It's bad enough now that they sell nachoes but if I had to listen to a carrot being bitten into by the person behind me...I would just have to invest in a better home entertainment system and my own theater popcorn machine!


Karen said...

Barbara: The smell of a hot dog anywhere (but especially in a dark theatre) makes me nauseaous these days. My theory is that they make the popcorn and nachos super salty (and sell other salty foods - nuts, hotdogs, burgers, pizza) which make you thirsty and therefore you end up buying another bottle of water part way through the movie or another pop. That's where they're making all their money.

Shea: I hear you. Those things should only be eaten once in a while (if at all). I might have an interview at a theatre here in town but they want me to work concession...don't know if I can do that.

Gardenia: The veggies are a good idea but they make a lot of noise. I had to sit beside a girl in a crowded lecture hall once during university and listen to her crunch for an hour. I finally got so ticked off I lost it and almost stuffed her carrot sticks up her nose. But I must confess, I too tend to buy the larger bags of popcorn although I've given up on the butter/butter-flavoured toppings. Baby steps I guess?

*A: Carrot cake at the movies? Nope, sorry. Not happening. Guess I won't be going to the cinema when I end up visiting.

J: My mother in law makes popcorn that rivals that at the theatres. Every time I go over to babysit or visit, I make her pop some for me :)

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