Good Popcorn at the Movies?

About a month ago, Julie and I enjoyed the rare kid-free Sunday movie matinee. We fell into our seats, in time for the previews, and snatched handfuls of popcorn from a bathtub-sized vessel wedged in between our two seats. The popcorn, rubbery with age and crystalline with excess salt, initiated a matrimonial skirmish. We whispered in the dark about who would go back to the concession stand and exchange our vintage popcorn for a fresher and less salty batch. I returned to our seats with popcorn promised by the adolescent concessionaire to be “just made.” It wasn’t, and our popcorn bucket ended in the trash, uneaten.

This past weekend when we went to the movies with the kids, we came prepared. Julie and I duct-taped Ziplock bags of fresh popcorn to each of the children’s torsos and explained to them the responsibilities and risks of being a mule, and how there would be no help if they got caught. Ok, not really, but we did sneak in a few bags of the good stuff.

Growing up, as a child of divorce, I had one parent who purchased popcorn and one who refrained. I knew which type of parent I wanted to be when I grew up. Now that I’m a parent, however, I’m torn.

I’m willing to ignore—in the interest of indulging guilty pleasures and generally not being a humbug—some potentially unwholesome ingredients such as artificial colors, artificial flavors, saturated fats, trans fats, and non-organically grown corn. But the portions and resulting counts are excessive. According to Nutrition Action Healthletter, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a small popcorn offered without “butter” (read butter-flavored oil) can have upwards of 670 calories, 34 grams of saturated fat, and 550 mg of sodium.

In addition to the dubious ingredients, I hesitate to mention an obvious fact, but movie popcorn is insanely overpriced*. While I feel terrible for under-paid movie executives and such ma-and-pa operations as AMC and Loews, there needs to be some semblance of value. I’m sure it’s a cutthroat business and like restaurant wine sales do for restaurants, the concessions pay for lots of other unseen costs. But many successful restaurants have seen the need to be competitive and offer better value on wines to keep customers coming.

Why can’t movies offer a more wholesome product? Are simple ingredients like butter and salt impossible options? Until they can offer better, more wholesome and reasonably priced corn, I suggest they charge a “pop-age” fee for annoying folks like me who have taken to the smugglers’ life.

Know of a theatre in the Twin Cities that makes tasty popped corn with reasonable ingredients? Anyone else want to come clean on sneaking popcorn into the movies?

Julie’s Movies Popcorn

(For clarity, Julie is not the sneaking culprit, but she is in charge of making popcorn at our house.)

¼ cup popcorn
½ tablespoon melted butter (for a better less “wet” feeling popcorn, try clarified butter)
Pinch of salt

Pour the popping corn into a paper lunch bag and microwave on high setting, closed, for approximately 2 ½ minutes or until the corn stops popping for more than a few seconds. Immediately pour the popped corn into a large bowl. Be careful when opening the bag to avoid a steam burn. Toss in the melted butter and salt. Reserve the “old maids” for those of us who treasure them.

* According to Gizmodo, a technology weblog about consumer electronics, “when adjusted for inflation, popcorn prices have seen an ironic 666% price increase, while movie ticket prices have increased a more moderate 66%.”  See Movie Theater Popcorn, It Really Is That Expensive, March 13, 2009.