Movies Make You Fat

Ransom Riggs

There are three simple reasons why: 20-cup bags of popcorn. 44-ounce sodas. Large-sized Goobers. Here's the problem, for me at least. I'm a film buff. I went to film school. Going to the movies on a regular basis is just part of my life -- I probably go once a week, on average, sometimes more often. And when I go, it's become some sort of ingrained-in-my-brain psychological Pavlovian requirement that while I'm staring up at that big glowing screen, I have a popcorn and soda in hand -- 70 ounces of fatty, sugary death that cost more than my movie ticket.

So where did this tradition come from? Why does every theater -- except for a few super-fussy "Academy" screening rooms in Hollywood -- sell popcorn? Turns out it all started in the 20s and 30s, when popcorn was one of the few confectionary luxuries that families during the depression could afford. At first, theater owners were concerned about the mess that all those kernels would make (and rightly so; it takes a small army of janitors to clean up after every show), but those who refused found popcorn-sellers opening up right outside their doors, to sell to folks as they came into the theater -- or found themselves out of business altogether. So popcorn at the movies is almost as old as the movies themselves.

The thing about eating during a movie is, once you're in the theater, the act-of face-stuffing becomes mindless. You hardly notice what you're shoving in the ol' word-hole anymore. A recent Cornell study which gave unwitting moviegoers different-sized buckets of popcorn showed that those with large buckets ate twice as much as those with medium-sized buckets without even realizing it. What's more, in some of the buckets, fresh popcorn was replaced with two-week-old kernels -- and nobody complained!

So what exactly are we consuming along with the filmed entertainment up on that screen? Here come the inevitably horrifying numbers:
"¢ A "large" popcorn can pack up to 1500 calories and more than 100 grams of saturated fat; that's two-and-a-half days' worth of fat. It could also deliver 2,000 grams of sodium to your already-stunned system -- that's assuming you don't add more salt at the "concessions condiments" station -- more than enough to make you finish that whole 44-oz soda you bought. Speaking of which ...

"¢ A 44-oz. soda adds another 550-odd calories worth of high-fructose corn syrup -- according to men's health, that's more than you'd get in a half-pound of ground beef!

"¢ I don't get the nachos or comically-large pretzels or any of that other stuff (well, the occasional hot dog), but for the sake of argument, let's take a look at an order of nachos, 40 chips' worth, with four-ounces of trans-fatty "cheese" dribbled over it. Weighing in at 1,000 calories, you'd be better off eating two large orders of McDonald's french fries or two quarter-pounders with cheese!

So what makes movie popcorn so terrible? You can get relatively healthful popcorn at any grocery store -- no trans-fats, low-sodium, popped in less-clogging oils. The trouble is, in my humble opinion, they don't taste as good as most movie theater popcorns, and the reason is simple: the worst theater chains pop their popcorn with highly-saturated coconut oil (yum!) and load it with salt. Not only that, but this "butter" they douse it in -- we're still trying to figure out what this stuff really is; it certainly doesn't come from a cow -- is like a liquid heart attack. And the fact that it irreparably stains any clothing it comes into contact with doesn't bode well for your inside-parts, either.

So does this change anyone's mind about movie theater snacks? I'm of two minds, myself: intellectually, I never want to touch the stuff again. But then there's that little Pavlovian dog inside my head that feels the need to plunk down $13 bucks for popcorn and soda every time it hears a movie trailer narrator intone, "In a world ..."