Thursday, August 19, 2010

Popcorn is almost a Socialist Food

You know, I grew up in the Reagan '80's, a time when the Red Scare was on high. To boot, I was in the Midwest, where it was probably even higher than in many other parts of the USA. So imagine how weird the above notion is.

All the more ironic when you consider that Illinois, the state of my birth, boasted corn as its staple crop, and capitalism as its staple economic system. So popcorn abounded along with anti-communist and anti-socialist sentiment. And I used to blissfully order it at movie theatres, without (added) butter, never making the connection.

Fast forward twenty-five years: On Tuesday, I sat at the kitchen table with my family. My husband had just made a big bowl of PopSecret in the microwave, and was diving into it, when our younger son made a beeline for the bowl and stuck his little hand in to eat it. Hubby initially didn't want to share, but eventually, he yielded when I promised to make another bowl. Then older son's hand went in. Then mine. So we ended up pecking like a group of chickens. I guess that's why they also call corn, "chickenfeed".

And this isn't just a family thing. Think of the times you go to the movies with friends and automatically offer them your bag or bucket. You share. It's sort of socialist in ideology, really. Everyone sort of gets some. You give everyone some, because that just seems like the thing to do. You don't care who bought it, it goes into a common pot. In fact, it's more fun that way. You can eat popcorn alone, but somehow that isn't as much fun. And everyone seems to like it, too: The wealthy, those strapped for cash, South Asians, Africans, Europeans, you name it. It is an affordable, plentiful food. Ok, maize originated in the Americas, and popcorn itself has been around for quite a while. I read a kid's book that said some popped kernels had been found and dated at over 5,000 years old, a statement backed up by Wiki Answers.
It's casual, affordable, and yummy, a signature snack food of the USA.

I had the ultimate Socialist Popcorn experience at the movies when we went to a local Arts Cinema. One of the managers was eating out of a huge bucket, and as he passed us in the foyer, he remarked, "Here, I got too much", and upturned his bucket into ours. That proved to be a bit much for me. I concede to everyone's right to share, but Not In My Own Bucket. Maybe he meant to be nice, but that was over the line. I don't know where he'd been! Apparently the staff realized this when I went to the counter to request a new bucket, and they sheepishly told me, "Sorry, he said he thought about that after he did it." But after my initial shock subsided, I acknowledged that, after all, he was acting on a generous impulse. He didn't steal mine; he gave me HIS popcorn. Now that's altruism.

But it is also mildly disgusting, in my opinion. It's like that custom from the Soviet Union wherein a coke vending machine held one glass cup, which was for use by everyone who used the vending machine. Perhaps it was well-meaning, and saved resources, or at least supplies, but...ick. Those folks who brought their own cups to use were called "unkulturen", or "uncultured". I call them smart. Or at least, hygienic.

Back to popcorn, though. Come to think of it, we don't worry too much about other people's hands when we share it, as long as we sort of know who they are. Which is unusual, for Americans. We are usually so hyper about cleanliness, and there is Bob who just gripped the armrest held by dozens of folks over the course of the week at the theatre, and he is diving right into our bucket. S'ok with us. Why is this? Because we are watching a movie? No I don't think so. We do this even at home. It might not be all of us drinking from the same cup, like they did in the former Soviet Union, but really, it isn't all that far off.

Capitalism and industrial food growth being what it is, popcorn now comes in different brands (PopSecret, Orville Redenbacher, Newman's Own), flavors (Cheddar Cheese, Chocolate, Caramel, Butter, Plain), and styles (Airpopped, Kettle Corn). But the impulse to share it? Ongoing. Almost socialist. And if you don't share it, you are seen as stingy or weird. It would be weird to see someone pouring popcorn onto a person's dinner plate in some measured, individual portion. Not to mention, no fun. And how nutty if we "split the cost" -- how do you divvy it up? $1 per 30 kernels?! No, that's not worth the trouble, so nobody does it.

Anyway, it's just one of those things I was thinking about. I guess it really doesn't matter. I just love the stuff. Especially the kind that the Boy Scouts of American sell, and we just ordered 2 big boxes of it.

You know what? I bet I was eating it while on a family trip to Wisconsin, watching Red Dawn, a film about a would-be Soviet invasion of the USA. Scary. But I was so freaked out by the movie, I forgot to offer it up for sharing.

And I hope you realize this was all tongue-in-kernel-filled cheek.