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Driver's Seat
Through the ages with popcorn
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Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send Driver an email at tralee71@comcast.net.
Iím thinking of writing an article or book about the influence of popcorn on world history, and Iím afraid itís going to be a rough trip. My initial research fails to reveal a single instance of where popcorn made the slightest difference in how an important event turned out.

I used to believe that another corn product Ė grits Ė was a major reason the South lost the Civil War. Grits was (and still is) a favorite southern food, and Confederate soldiers ate tons of grits. I thought that grits had little nutritional value, and therefore contributed to low stamina in the otherwise brave and skilled warriors from Dixie. I was wrong. Grits has lots of vitamins. If anything, grits allowed the South to fight on even longer than it did. So much for grits. Can we get back to popcorn?

Indeed. There is evidence that popcorn is a major reason for the continued existence of the Hollywood film industry. As anyone knows who visits a modern movie complex, the sale of popcorn is what determines whether a film succeeds or fails. Some theaters now charge an arm or a leg for a ten-ounce box of popcorn. ďThat will be your left arm, madam, or $25, or simply leave your infant child with us as a ransom deposit while you watch the movie.Ē

Suckers and popcorn-hounds that we are, we just go along with the rip-off. The money goes to the theater, the film distributors and then on to Hollywood. If every moviegoer refused to buy popcorn (or Jujubes or the other overpriced sugarized trash the theater offers) Hollywood would quickly go broke.

Now that fewer Americans are willing or able to spend $80 per visit to take their families to a movie, we watch films at home, thanks to Netflix and other schemes that market movies via our computers or TV sets. What does that mean for popcorn sales? I would bet that per-viewer home consumption of popcorn is even higher than it was in the theaters. Itís much less expensive, and you are free to use as much or as little butter as you wish.

The major drawback to home consumption, of course, is the damage you can inflict on your computer or TV clicker by covering it with a layer of melted butter and salt. Itís conceivable that we soon will be able to buy popcorn insurance to cover such woeful results.

Popcorn was not always with us. Archaeologists tell us popcorn was invented by the Guatemalans as far back as 4700 B.C., long before ďGone With the WindĒ or ďScream IIĒ were even thought of. Many years later explorers from England and Spain found popcorn waiting for them. In exchange for this great gift, the Europeans gave the Native Americans syphilis, thus establishing the basic practices that were followed for the next 400 years.

During World War II the scarcity of sugar caused much less candy to be produced. So Americans ate three times as much popcorn.

Popcorn is a special variety of corn. Inside each kernel is oil and water. Outside is a hard shell. When enough heat is applied to the corn, the inner workings suddenly expand and explode with a pop. In this way popcorn resembles many love affairs, marriages and employer-employee relationships Iíve heard about.

Various ways exist to measure the quality of popcorn. One method is to count the number of kernels that do not explode. In the popcorn industry these are called old maids, a despicable term that virtually begs for the attention of feminists and equal rights activists.

A popped kernel takes one of two shapes, referred to as a butterfly or a mushroom. The butterfly kernels have wings and are softer to the taste. The mushroom kernels tend to be round. On a slow night, you may wish to count the number of butterfly vs. mushroom kernels in your popcorn bowl. The results will make at least much sense as that TV show about the Kardashians.

Most popcorn comes from Nebraska, Indiana and Texas. Popcorn is the official snack food of Illinois.

Is popcorn a healthy food? Some say yes, some say no. Ask your doctor. He/she may advise against serving popcorn to a child under four years of age, because of the danger of choking.

As I write this column on Oct. 31, I look forward to watching the election returns on the evening of Nov. 6. My companion at that time will be a hefty supply of popcorn, and maybe some ice cream. No matter who wins the election, popcorn will survive. So will you and I, and America, kindness, courage, laughter, duty, sweet-voiced women, music, sunrise and a thousand other marvels. But always popcorn.

Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send him an email at tralee71@comcast.net.
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