I love going to the movies. There is something about sitting in the dark with strangers all being immersed in the same experience. The big screen and surround sound are fun, but they are just part of the ambience. The last part is crucial – movie snacks.
For me, popcorn at a movie is a required component. My hubbie is more of a chocolate and licorice kind of guy, munching only the occasional handful of popcorn. Despite our disparity on choice of snack, we have managed to attend movies happily together on enough Tuesdays to fill a large bucket.
Regardless of the snack you choose, its enjoyment can provide the final step in immersing oneself in the movie. Munching M & M’s or gnawing on a bite of licorice can help manage the stress of a horror movie monster’s massacre; nibbling popcorn can aid in maintaining one’s heartbeat at a reasonable level during fast-paced action scenes. The smell of the treats, the movie soundtrack music that leads us in, the darkness that envelops us and the smoke and mirrors of a story on the screen all blend together to take you away from the regular world.
There are consequences to every action. Just like a good movie will also make you think, the snacks leave a lasting impression as well. Tonight on the way home from the theatre it occurred to me – I was busy fussing with popcorn kernels in my teeth and my hubbie was sucking on bits of licorice stuck in his teeth. (He had already licked his fingers of the melting chocolate as we walked to the car.) Was this a marketing ploy, I wondered? Perhaps the movie production companies are in cahoots with Nestlé or Cadbury’s to ensure we are sucked into a lasting experience. Does the popcorn machine company Cretors & Co. put something in with the kernels? After all they have had five generations of their family sustaining movie goers all over North America. (You can read my article on the history of popcorn if you’re keen to know more on this story.)
I suppose I’m just getting sentimental as I age. Much about movies and the movie-going experience has changed in my lifetime. “Extreme” theatres and reclining seats, movies about video game characters – all things that didn’t exist twenty years ago when hubbie and I started our movie date night.
Part of me likes that the popcorn kernels still stick in my teeth the same way they always have. I smile when I hear the outrageously loud sound of my hubbie opening his bag of licorice. Some things don’t need to change.
I had just finished my weekly column for the local news website, writing about popcorn. (It’s Popcorn Day next week, and I was munching on some as I wrote, so it seemed like easy inspiration.) As my mind wandered to think of what to write here today, I remembered my first taste of movie popcorn the year I lived in France… it was confusing. I had the taste expectation of buttery fluffy kernels half melting in my mouth. Instead I got cauliflower-shaped kernels that were coated in a sugary crunch. It wasn’t bad, but my memories collided with my tastebuds and I was distracted. The association didn’t make sense in my brain.
Taste is mostly about smell, and that is hard-wired into our memory in our brains, so remembering a food experience as a whole has a lot of baggage attached to it. Once I got my head wrapped around a new experience, I was fine to have French popcorn at a French movie. (I just needed to switch it up – I couldn’t enjoy someone else dubbing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice either – I had to see francophone films to keep things on an even keel.)
With all the experiences we log in our brain and our taste buds, we do seem to come out on either side of a preference that divides the world – whether we like sweet or salty. Would you choose chips or cookies? It’s not a random choice – did you know we are genetically predisposed to one or the other? Some people really are born with a sweet tooth.
There are factors that influence us – what our mothers eat during pregnancy, then what we associate as comfort food. Some people actually need more sugar in food to perceive sweetness; they often have as many as one third fewer tastebuds than the average person, and so are referred to as non-tasters. By contrast, people with more tastebuds generally are more sensitive, and they often prefer salty tastes. (Think of cooking – salt improves many flavours, and helps hide bitterness.)
In case you’re wondering, I prefer salt to sweet. My “sweet tooth” is more for fat – I love dark chocolate, whipped cream, custard, pastry… and I’ve grown to like kettle corn, which is a lot like the stuff they serve in French movie theatres – salty and sweet.
Whichever way you lean, I hope you get to snuggle up and enjoy your favourite treat this weekend. Happy snacking!