Death by popcorn?

Last week my wife accused me of trying to kill her.

Wait, it’s not what you think. You see, we were in the movie theater and I bought her an extra large bag of popcorn. And when I say “extra large” I mean bigger than a heavy-duty Hefty garbage bag and drenched in more butter than a BP oil spill.

So when I got back to the seat and handed it to her she grumbled, “Are you trying to kill me? Don’t you know buttered popcorn is dangerous?”

Popcorn is now considered a lethal weapon? Hmmmm, I didn’t see any warning from the surgeon general about that.

At first, I thought she was talking about saturated fat, which clogs arteries and causes obesity, diabetes and cancer. None of that has stopped me from eating chili dogs and Haagen-Dazs of course, but I could see her concerns about it.

But no, instead, she was referring to a chemical developed by the military industrial complex — or maybe by North Korea — called diacetyl, which is the ingredient that on the one hand gives popcorn its buttery taste and smell, but on the other has been linked to lung disease and other ailments. A study by the University of Minnesota recently concluded the flavoring agent also contributes to Alzheimer’s by causing brain proteins to clump together.

This news created a serious moral dilemma for me. Should I grab the popcorn from my wife, race outside and toss it in the trash? Or as a charitable act, should I grab the popcorn from my wife and give it to the fellow in the next row, who had already scarfed down a jumbo box of Skittles, an extra long hot dog dripping mustard and a platter of fries slathered in either Cheez Whiz or Elmer’s Glue. With all that junk in his stomach, a little diacetyl wouldn’t hurt.

However, as I pondered my options, she instead started devouring the popcorn before I could take it. To think that she’s the one who’s always lecturing me about pesticides, but the diacetyl scare didn’t stop her from finishing the whole bag before the first sex scene in the movie. I should add the first sex scene was also the only sex scene and it was at the end of the movie.

We had gone to see that film with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones about a married couple who have a problem with sex, which I suspect was caused by eating too much buttered popcorn while they were dating.

I, myself, avoided the popcorn because my family has a history of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s, and I don’t want to end up like Tommy Lee Jones. Instead, I chewed on Milk Duds and pulled out a few fillings in the process, which will make my dentist happy because I’ve been neglecting those regular checkups.

Diacetyl, I later learned, is also used in margarine, pet foods, snacks, baked products, some chardonnays and candy, which tells me I should have checked the ingredients in those Milk Duds.

In Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, author Michael Pollen offers this advice: “Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.” And “Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry: Ethoxylated diglycerides? Cellulose? Xanthan gum? Calcium propionate? Ammonium sulfate?”

There are so many artificial substances in our food I’m convinced nothing in the supermarket is safe to eat. I curse all those years I lived on Ring Dings, Hot Pockets and Swanson TV Dinners.

Now, just give me bread and water. But, please, hold the butter.


Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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