It’s the Season Finale! Did you know Anna & Lia met working at a movie studio? It's true, so there was only one food to wrap the 1st season with: Popcorn. They reminisce about their days as “Hollywood Elites,” compare popcorn eating strategies & discuss their deep love for movie theater loyalty programs. Lia tells us about National Popcorn Poppin’ Month, the Kellogg family member you don’t know but should, the 7,000 year old popcorn found in Aztec tombs, and the hidden meaning behind Cracker Jack 's unofficial jingle, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." Then Anna takes us through the 100 year love story between popcorn and the movies, from world wars to talkies, to an enterprising woman who pioneered selling concessions in theaters in the 1930s. Because if you didn’t have popcorn, did you even see the movie? We'll be back with more episodes Spring 2021!
For more great content about the stories & foods we talk about on the show (plus a peek BTS) connect with us at @FoodDayPod on Instagram & Twitter, join our Facebook Group & check out our webpage. Access the transcript here.
Explore more form the show:
Hear the classic movie theater (remember those?) ditty Let's All Go to the Lobby.
Check out Orville Redenbacher's "Movie Theater Butter" commercial
Take any excuse to watch Singin' in the Rain
Hi Listeners. Anna here. Just want to remind you that I’ve got another new podcast out called The More You Scroll. A show about trying to stay sane on the internet. You can listen to it on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Hey guys, it’s Lia. Don’t forget to head over to Yumday.co where you can shop snacks from your new favorite snack makers. And listeners, we have a special promo for you. You can use code fooddaypod at checkout to get a discount with your first purchase.
Hi Everyone! From YumDay and Van Valin Productions, this is the season finale of “Every Day is a Food Day”
I’m your host, Anna Van Valin.
And I’m your other host, Lia Ballentine. On “Every Day is a Food Day,” we celebrate food stories, from our calendars to our kitchens.
Food Stories are people stories, and today’s stories are poppin.’
Because in this episode, we’re talking about POPCORN.
Today we’re moving from food trends to food rituals. In the Deep Dish, I’m going to tell you the century-old love story between Popcorn and The Movies.
But first, I’m going to tell you about popcorn holidays, like National Popcorn Poppin Month, how popcorn inspired a favorite breakfast dish and the surprising story behind that famous Cracker Jack jingle.
For more great content about the foods and stories we talk about on the show, and to get a peek behind the scenes, connect with us on Instagram and Twitter @FoodDayPod, or visit us at yumday.co/podcast.
Be sure to subscribe and help us get the word out about the show by sharing it with anyone who loves food, podcasts - or both! To help other listeners find it, leave a rating and review.
Lia, How much do you love popcorn?
I love it so much. I eat it almost every day.
I do too.
I'm not lying. I really do eat it all the time.
Just microwave popcorn, you get the bags. Of like...
Yeah, the microwave popcorn. I used to use the Whirley Pop.
What's a Whirley pop?
It's the old-timey stovetop popcorn popping pan. You do get the best popcorn that way. I'm convinced.
But I've gotten lazy, so I've been microwaving. But yeah, I used to Whirley pop my popcorn.
How does it work?
Oh my gosh, you should totally get one, so you've got your big metal pot, and then you throw your kernels in, you put a little oil in there, and then you can salt it, season it in the pot. And then there's a little crank, so you put this lid on it, and then it has this thing that spins the kernels around. But there is a little crank.
Like a salad spinner?
Kind of like a salad spinner, but there's this crank on the end of a handle that goes down and then it has these little wings and it just spins the kernels, so as you're heating it up, you're spinning the kernels, they're getting coated in the oil and then when it gets hot, it starts popping in there and...
That must be so satisfying.
Oh, it's great when you're like pop pop pop! And you start to feel it in the Whirley pop and you're just like, oh, I'm gonna crank it harder. It's so good. And then when you see the edges of the pop, so the cover is kind of split in two and there's like a hinge in the middle, and then they clip down, but you can tell one will start to pop up a little bit more when it gets to the top...
Does it have the side butter melting component?
So, We had an air popper when I was a kid, and it was a machine that you plugged in and then you... It was a very satisfying because you would pour the kernels in and then they would like pop, and the air, it was a heated air inside, so it was blowing around and then as it would pop, it would blow them up and then they would come down the shoot. And then you would also on the back, you set this little... You put butter in this little container and then because it was heating up to pop the kernels, it would melt the butter...
And then you would like pick up, the butter is all melty, and then you like drizzle it.
I've never had an air popper, I've been thinking about getting one though because... Air pop popcorn. Well, I guess if you don't pour the butter all over, it should be better for you, right.
You can get the butter spray... Yeah, Lou loves butter on his popcorn so much, I so do I, but we get the unbelievable butter, extra super dripping and butter, and he still sprays the spray butter on it.
It's weird 'cause it makes me feel fancy no matter what, it turns everything into a little event, even if it's like, I'm just gonna watch these old episodes of Bobs Burgers, I'm like but first.
But once you make popcorn.
But first, I'm gonna pop some Popcorn...
Oh, and you can make popcorn super fancy if you want to. That's a great thing about it.
Yeah, there's all those toppings.
Yeah, toppings and seasonings, and I put truffle oil on it in a super high class. You should totally drizzle truffle oil on popcorn. It's amazing.
Maybe I will.
Oh yeah, should do the truffle oil on it. It’s amazing. and then lately, I've been making my popcorn super spicy with Togo Rashi seasoning...
The Japanese chili pepper spice? It's super good, but I just sprinkle all over.
Amazing. I'm so basic with all my food, I'm like, Yeah, Orval Redenbacher and spray butter and you're like, I import this Japanese spice and sprinkle it on top and then I layer in truffle oil. I was thinking about, I don't do this now because there is a person I live with, who watches me eat the popcorn. But when I was alone, I, this is so gross. I don't why I'm telling you this.
In order to, I mean laziness, but in order to not get popcorn grease on my hands, do you know what I used to do?
What did you used to do?
So I had the bowl with the bucket, and I put it really close to my face. And then I would just stick my tongue out like a frog. And the popcorn just sticks to your tongue. And you just pull it back to your mouth.
I’ve done that before.
Just out of laziness.
I’m just imagining myself, I’m like a frog, and I'm like Blah.
It's usually because I have my hand on the remote and one hand holding the popcorn.
Well, yeah. You don't want to get it greasy.
Yeah, so I'm just like blub. blub.
It just sticks to you perfectly. Okay good. I'm glad I'm not alone.
There is no wrong way to eat popcorn.
Yeah, there is no wrong way to eat popcorn. And popcorns also just associated with all kinds of fun things. Fun things, special things. We are gonna talk a little bit later about popcorn and movies.
I can't watch a movie without popcorn, especially if I'm at home, like, no, I gotta make popcorn. Right.
You know listeners, Lia and I met working at a movie studio may it rest in peace.
We did. The movie is what brought us together.
Yeah, we were just Hollywood people.
We were just the Hollywood elites, Me and Lia. Out of Touch Hollywood elites. That's us.
Don't know anything. Anything about real life. The Common people.
That's right. It was all glitz and glamour. No, it wasn't. Guys, it wasn't.
Everyday. No, no, but we had the movies to bring us together.
The movies brought us together, we got to watch movies all the time.
All kinds of theaters and it was so fun and it was such a... It was such a magical place. To know that you're in the same place that created some of the most important, most viewed... Most loved movies. And I always love that about the movies, is that it's this universal language of... You know... You can go anywhere in the world. I'd be like, * twenty-century fox theme*, everybody knows what that is. Or you can say, click your heels together three times. And say...
Yeah, there's no place like home. And you get it.
You get it right. I just love that. It's kinda like food.
It is like Food. Another universal language.
It makes sense that... Movies and food are connected. Mm-hmm. You like that segway everybody?
That was so smooth. Like peanut butter.
Smooth like Cisco, Crisco-laden peanut butter. Yeah, no, we had serious-sounding jobs, and we did do some serious things.
We did do serious work. Yeah, very serious.
Yeah, there were CEO reports.
Oh yeah, yeah, all the time.
I worked in operations strategy until I invented a job that I would have rather done... I do those a lot, listeners, I was like, We should have a podcast division, and then I just harassed everyone for two years until they let me start one.
And Look at that.
And look at us now. But I did, I made a beautiful podcast called Screen dive that if you guys haven't listened to, you should listen to... I interview Mel Brooks. I made Mel Brooks laugh.
It's amazing, I love that you interviewed Mel Brooks, and now you're doing this with me, so obviously, Mel Brooks and I... Basically in the same category.
Lia, you are the Mel Brooks of food podcasts.
So Lia, food holidays for popcorn. I mean, I can't imagine a world where we wouldn't wanna celebrate popcorn...
Right, I know. I wouldn't wanna live in that world.
Wouldn't wanna live in that world either...
Get me out.
What a terrible dark place. I mean darker than the one we're living in now. Maybe...
Yeah, thankfully, we do have popcorn holidays to celebrate.
Amazing. And we just have one, right?
Yes, we did, yeah. We just had popcorn day on January 19th, and there are a handful of other popcorn holidays. There is a national popcorn lover's day.
We love those lovers' days.
We love the lover's days, and that one is the second Thursday of March. So it kind of floats around every year, it keeps us on our toes. Yup, there's national caramel popcorn Day in April, April 6th, there's national popcorn popping month, and it's actually called popcorn poppin month.
And that's the month of October, and then National popcorn string Day, December 13, which makes sense.
Do they last another 12 days?
They can. I tried to make a popcorn string popcorn Garland, not this past year, but the year before. And pro-tip, don't use butter popcorn because it becomes super messy, but that's the only popcorn I had... I was like, Yeah, I just ate it. Really at the end, I was like, we have made the string, it looks kind of cute.
I mean, at least it's a craft that's easy to clean up...
That's true. It's a sustainable.
Sustainable. Reuseable. Really upcycle that popcorn string into your mouth.
So yeah, we just had popcorn day, January 19th, and popcorn day's been observed in some way since 1988, but according to the Internet Researchers, there's evidence that suggests that the day used to actually be celebrated towards the end of January, because of the Super Bowl. Popcorn's a huge snack... So yeah. And then we have national popcorn lover's day, the one that's on the second Thursday of March, and this day is kind of sweet. So it was created in 2012 by a man named Bob Matthews of Rochester, New York. So up in your neck of the woods.
That's right near my hometown of Buffalo.
And so Bob was kind of like the OG popcorn lover, so he would make popcorn for his wife every Thursday, it was just like a little sweet snack he would prepare for her, and Bob apparently was an avid gardener, and he used to grow his own popcorn dry his popcorn kernels and make his own popcorn.
Alright, I'm from western New York. It's not exactly prime corn growing territory, so I am impressed and confused...
Well, apparently, Bob figured this out, and I did a little bit of research and digging on this whole popcorn lover's Day in the story of Bob Matthews and there's... It's like an old website with an old gardening forum, and I think that's where it first popped up. Popped up. But yeah, he was part of, I guess, a gardening network and had figured out how to grow his own popcorn corn, special variety of corn at his home, and then he would just grow his own. Dry his own kernels and then make his own popcorn and then make popcorn for his wife.
It made me really curious though about trying to grow my own...
Oh yeah, you could grow some corn right next to your ghost peppers.
I wonder if I did some sort of crazy, some cross-pollination and cross-breed these things and get a very spicy popcorn.
Popcorn husbandry. Try it. That's season two.
We really just go deep into agriculture and...
All kinds of experimenting. Making up new food so we can make more holidays. I'm for it.
Oh. Ghost ghost popcorn.
Ghost pepper popcorn. Ghost corn. You know that would be in every Brooklyn Bar, little bowls of ghost popcorn.
Oh My God. Yes.
Yes. Yeah, every cafe in Echo Park ghost pepper popcorn.
All... Echo Park, Silver Lake peeps. Give me a call, I've got my super small batch, home-grown.
Artisinal. I use only air loom popcorn to make this, and I've been using the same seeds from a ghost pepper plant a planted years and years ago, so...I can see the branding right now, it's gonna be sick.
I love it. It's better than Pirates Booty.
But you know, like the big popcorn celebration is National popcorn poppin month. In October, it's been around for a while, the popcorn board actually started to promote this month as a celebration of popcorn because that's when the popcorn harvest typically takes place at the Midwest. The thing that made popcorn poppin month official was that it was actually declared in a proclamation by the Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman in 1999.
Wow, that's very official proclamation.
It is a very official. Once you've got the proclamation out there, you know, you just can't argue it, but have you imagine the proclamation is for national popcorn poppin month... They had to have the popping in there.
Well, yeah, they don't want you to be passive about it. You need to be popping it... It's an action, really.
It is. It really is.
So popcorn poppin month is in October. It happens to also be the peak period for popcorn sales, they say for home consumption happens in the fall, and the other thing too, and I think this ties into the events that you're gonna talk about, it's like football and sporting events, people eating popcorn and popcorn concession, so fall is a big time for popcorn.
Well, and also it's getting colder, so people are home inside more in fall it's a great season for movies. So yeah, popcorn, I get it. We lean into the popcorn in the fall.
Popcorn, it's popping, I mean, let's be real. We eat it all around the calendar all year long, but I can see how sales might peek in in the fall.
What's interesting too, is that the popcorn board was actually formed in 1998, so the year before popcorn poppin month became official, so I felt like the board got together and they were like, Guys, we know how important popcorn is, we're gonna have to push for the government to recognize October, our month...
Well, we know that as these boards, these food boards, they carry some sway...
But there's a lot to celebrate about Popcorn, it's a snack. It's been around forever. Pretty much, yeah, I'd say. I think it's true that this is probably the world's oldest snack food, so there's tons of evidence that shows that popcorn was cultivated all over the Americas for thousands of years, old ears of popcorn were found in New Mexico in 1948-1950, and they were carbon-dated to be around 5600 years old.
Probably even older by now.
In Native American caves and ruins, when you say ears of popcorn, that's because not all kinds of corn are strains of popcorn.
Right, exactly. So there's a specific corn strain that is the popcorn, right, or... That makes popcorn. Yeah. Mm-hmm.
I just wanted to clarify that.
Yeah, that's another interesting thing too, 'cause I think we all just assume from cartoons that any old ear of popcorn, once it gets hot enough, we'll just like pop into popcorn.
But, no. There's specific strains because of how much moisture is locked inside of the kernel, and then what happens is that that moisture kind of cooks and pops and bursts out of the outer shell of the kernel, so it's not all of them.
That's a very good point. There were archaeologists who found popcorn in Peru, that was almost 7000 years old, he had Aztecs, not only ate the popcorn, but popcorn was used ceremonially, so they were used for headdresses, necklaces, and other ornaments. In Chile, archaeologists found popcorn at a burial ground that was over 1000 years old, but it was so well preserved that they actually believed you could still pop those kernels today.
Did they try it?
I don't know, I kind of wonder if they did, I bet somebody did. You know one of those Archaeologists.
Oh yeah. Those Archaeologists, they like to try the stuff that they find like in an Egyptian tomb... I gotta say.
Yeah, the ones that ate those...
Yeah, the ones that ate those grotes. You're not supposed to eat the artifacts, guys. But I know we've talked about the Egyptian tombs, and every time they opened a new one, there's some new amazing things in there, and then there was the thing about Pompei, and they found snack foods in Pompei ruins, it seems like these Native American caves are like the new world equivalent they're like, they're like the America's equivalent of the Egyptian tombs.
Oh my gosh. It's so fascinating. I love hearing about all of the things that we find in Egyptian tombs, the Pompei, Thermopile, the snack bars. So cool and yeah, now we've got old caves, old bat caves where you can find old popcorn, and they still could pop today... I bet you one of those guys tried it...
Yeah, we guys just like... Oops, I dropped it a few kernels came off in my hand.
So yeah, popcorn has been around thousands of years, and over time, I mean popcorn just spread, spread across the Americas. I mean colonists started adapting the popcorn variety and began eating popcorn as well, and reportedly colonial women made the first breakfast cereal by putting milk and sugar on popcorn.
So corn pops. Amazing, yeah, makes total sense.
It does. So apparently, one person who continued to experiment with popcorn as a breakfast cereal was a woman named Ella Eaton Kellogg. Does that last name sound familiar?
I think I've heard Kellogg's and cereal in the same sentence. At some point, I don't remember. Yes.
Yeah, well, Ella Kellog was married to John Harvey Kellogg, they are of the Kellogg's empire. Was a woman that really enjoyed popcorn and she fired out how to grind the popcorn with milk or cream to make a delicious snack. Ella was kind of a popcorn evangelist, she used to recommend that people would eat popcorn with their meals because of its nutritional value, how good it tasted, and Ella knew this because she was actually a dietitian. She was a nutritionist. She was born in the mid-1850s. And she graduated with her Bachelor's degree from Alfred University in New York at the age of 16.
Oh my god.
Yeah. And she also got her master's there, so she's just... This genius woman who became a pioneer in dietetics became a nationally recognized dietitian. And on top of that, just was someone who wanted to create recipes that were healthy, she tried to create foods that didn't use refined sugar, she was a big promoter of vegetarianism, and she just thought that, that eating well would help human civilization overall.
Yeah. Was she involved in... I can't remember which Kellogg brother, one of the Keller brothers had the sanitorium. That’s her husband.
Yeah, so that's her husband. John Harvey was the director of the sanatorium, and that's actually how she met him, she'd gone there because she had a family member who was ill, who was there. She ended up meeting him at the sanatorium and then getting a job there and working there, and basically kind of running the whole foodservice or department.
She was like the resident nutritionist? Amazing.
Yeah, exactly, so she pretty much ran a lab out of the kitchen there, and it was where she would do all of these experiments and trying to figure out what foods were best for the patients, and how could you use food to heal. At the same time, she was also writing for a magazine called Good Health. She eventually became the editor of that magazine.
During this time, while basically running the sanatorium with John Harvey Kellogg, she founded a school of home economics, wrote three books on food. One of them was called Science in the kitchen, which was like a full 600-page illustrated cookbook. She was also was the chairman of the world spare food supplies committee in the 1890s for the state of Michigan.
And we know about those world fairs. Those world fairs put food on the map.
Yeah, yeah, so all of the work that she did really contributed to growing the field of home economics, dietetics, and she was also in favor of women's suffrage and children's rights.
So cool. And we’ve never heard her name or her story. Just her husbands.
Yeah, we always hear about John Harvey Kellogg and his brother William. But we rarely hear about Ella Kellogg, and she’s the one who actually created a lot of these recipes that ended up inspiring the different breakfast cereals and health food products that we have today. In our peanut butter episode, we mentioned how John Harvey Kellogg is credited for making one of the first commercially available peanut butters, right?
Well, I read an article from the Paris Review that suggests it was Ella’s idea and that she developed the recipe as a meat substitute. Maybe it was a joint effort? But it would’ve been nice for Ella to get some credit.
Would’ve been nice. And look at us. We didn’t even know. We didn’t even credit her last time.
And you know what else Ella created, granola, which was based on a recipe from one of their associates that she ended up refining. It was such a hit with the patients at their sanitorium that one of their patients, named C.W. Post, used it in his own product -- Grape Nuts!
Ella is the mother of American Cereal
And Ella’s most famous recipes, which involved crisping up flakes of wheat, became the inspiration for one of our most famous breakfast cereals today -- corn flakes!
Oh my god, Ella invented corn flakes. Wait, crispy flakes of wheat made corn flakes?
It was the inspiration. So when Ella first made the flakes, she wanted to use grains from Midwestern crops because she regarded them as highly nutritious. She figured out a way to bake and toast them to create crispy flakes, and they called this stuff “Granose.” But over time, the Kellogg’s kept adapting the recipe and process; and in the late 1890s, they decided to use this same process of crisping and flaking wheat with corn, and they came up with Corn Flakes.
That is incredible. Nobody does this alone. I think that's also what I'm learning more and more doing this and in general, is that patriarchy tells us that people do it alone, that there's these individual heroes who are so brilliant, they were such geniuses, they were enterprising, etcetera, etcetera. No one gets anywhere alone, no one does anything alone. And men and women have been partnering on things, including work, including science, including design, all those things since the beginning of time. I hate that phrase, Behind every great man is a great woman, 'cause they're not behind, a lot of times they're right next to but they don't get any credit. Thanks, Ella. Thanks for the corn flakes. I do love me some Frosted Flakes in it completely undercuts all nutritional value because they're dipped in sugar, but guys, they're dipped in sugar.
Right, I don't think... I don't know how Ella would feel about what we've done today.
Where we took her recipes...
Yeah, thanks. And now, all refined sugar that you didn't like, we're adding it in by the spoonful.
Well, apparently a lot of people were experimenting with popcorn in this kind of way, what could we add to popcorn to elevate it. Yeah, food experimentation seemed to be getting pretty big in the 1890s, and experimenting with popcorn by putting molasses on popcorn was a new thing, as well as putting caramel on popcorn. So one of the foods that we got because of this type of experimentation was the Cracker Jack...
The Cracker Jack was showcased at the 1893 World’s Fair.
World’s Fair again.
Exactly. The World’s Fair that Ella was a chairman of a food supplies committee at. And just like any other good, All American food, the Cracker Jack was created by Immigrants.
They get the job done. They get the job done.
So the creators of the Cracker Jack were Frederick Rockheim and his brother Lewis, and they were German immigrants. And Frederick was already selling popcorn on the streets of Chicago, and he was making some other candies as well, and people were putting molasses on popcorn like I mentioned, but his brother, Louis figured out a process that could keep the popcorn from sticking together, which this is still a company secret, we don't know how they do this. How they are able to coat the popcorn, but make it so that they're not totally clumped up.
Do you think they just paint each individual popcorn? Set them down separately.
Set them aside...
Let them dry.
I would like that job.
Just resident kernel painter. But then I think your title should be Colonel Kernel. Because then you’d be the Colonel or kernel painting. Chief Colonel glazer.
Chief kernel glazer. Colonel Kernel.
They wanted to add stripes to the box to just prove their patriotism. Because when people found out, they were like immigrants that made the Cracker Jack, they weren’t sure. So they really just went all out with the red, white, and blue. On the box.
But yeah, Frederick and Louis, made these Cracker Jacks, showcase them at the World's fair. They became a hit and they ended up getting free advertising because of that song, “Take me out to the ball game.”
Oh, that wasn't like their jingle...
No, it was another person that wrote the song. Oh, they totally did not. Yeah, it wasn't their jingle at all.
Take Me out to the Ball Game Song
“Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks
I don't care if I never get back
Let me root, root, root
For the home team
If they don't win it's a shame
Ahh. For it's one, Two,
Three strikes you're out
At the old ball game”
So, the composer was a guy named Jack Norworth, who was a Vaudeville performer and songwriter. The story goes that while riding the subway sometime in early spring 1908 through New York City, he saw a sign that read, “Baseball Today -- Polo Grounds,” and was inspired to write the lyrics during the rest of his subway ride on the back of an envelope. He was pretty proud of what he wrote, so he shared it with another composer friend, Albert von Tilzer (who created the melody, and they refined the song together! And one of the crazy things is that neither of them had ever attended a baseball game!
Just a couple of white men who assume they are experts. Let me become the voice. Let me be the voice of baseball fans everywhere.
That's Jack and Albert for you. But you want to know something else that’s super surprising about that song? Did you know that it’s a feminist anthem?
No! What? I’m thinking. I’m running through the lyrics.
Okay, well most of us know the chorus, but there are actually a couple of verses that are probably unknown to most. And here is the crazy thing. In the song, those verses are all about a lady named Katie Casie who was “baseball mad,” “saw all the games,” and “knew the players by their first names.” A baseball superfan! So the song is actually Katie’s response to her “beau” when he asks her if she wants to go out to see a show. But instead, she says, take me out to the ball game.
Oh… What? I get it now. Take me out to the ball game. Take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks. She’s not afraid to ask for what she wants.
She’s not afraid. Isn’t that crazy? So these lyrics are Katie’s response to her beau asking her if she wants to go out. And she was like, yeah you can take me out. But I want to go to the baseball game. So, a historian dug into the origin of this song, and it seems that Jack’s girlfriend at the time, Trixie Friganza, was an actress, a baseball fan, a fan of the Giants, and also an activist and advocate for women’s suffrage. And there’s actually photos of a suffrage rally that she was a part of. And she was there front and center. And Trixie’s photo is on the cover of the sheet music for “Take me out to the Ballgame.”
That is amazing. I love that story.
It blew my mind. So this whole song is this woman’s response to like, I want to go see the ball game. I know all the players. There is a line in there about arguing with the umpire's call. And just being a part of… being in the stadium.
And she’s all about getting the peanuts and Cracker Jacks.
So what you are saying is, as feminists, we should all be eating Cracker Jacks.
Cracker Jacks. Obviously.
Obviously. As feminists and patriots, you know, there’s stars and stripes.
There are stars and stripes. On the Cracker Jack box. Super patriotic. So yeah.
I love that turn of events. Good sleuthing.
Thank you. And from there just the popularity of popcorn in different forms just took off, we started to see it in other concessions and other events, and that's what you're gonna dive into in your deep dish.
Yeah, we're gonna talk about something that keeps coming up, which is how popcorn has been linked to entertainment, and we're gonna talk specifically in the Deep Dish about movies and movie theater popcorn.
If you didn't eat popcorn while watching the movie, did you even see the movie...
No, no. Doesn't count.
No doesn’t count. You heard it here first folks.
MUSIC "POPCORN LOVE"
Coming up in the Deep Dish, we’re going to talk about how talking pictures, wartime rationing, and an enterprising Missouri woman with a popcorn cart, made it so watching movies is never complete without popcorn.
MUSIC "POPCORN LOVE"
Alright. Lia. When you think of popcorn, what's the first thing that comes to your mind?
Movies. Oh man, I miss the movie so much...
I miss popcorn. If you go to the movies and there isn't popcorn, it is an incomplete experience.
Oh yeah. There was one time we were a little uncomfortable with eating our popcorn at the movies, it was because we were watching a quiet place and we couldn't like crunch on it, it was so loud, it was embarrassing, like, Oh man, now we have to just wait till the end of the movie before we can eat our popcorn.
But that's so respectful of you to not crunch through the whole thing.
Yeah, 'cause when it started, we were all like crunch crunch, Like, you could hear, and then it was just like, let's put it away...
But I did read something that... Well, it's not exactly an action movie, but there's some action sequences, but they tested people eating popcorn through all sorts of genres of movies, and during action movies, people consumed more popcorn, more snacks than in any other genre, and they think it has to do with the quick cuts to the quick cuts, the quick movements kind of like the beats per minute of the movie makes you wanna...
You eat with the pace of the movie.
That's totally true. With a quiet place, we ate any time we heard the monster, that was the only chance we could have to munch on the popcorn.
Somebody's being ripped to shreds. And you're like like, gnaw gnaw. Amazing. So if you wanna watch your popcorn intake, then you just need to see a lot of slow indie British films with a lot of long quiet glances... But I love the experience of even getting the popcorn, that's part of what I think sets the snack apart is that it is like a whole sensory experience, you're waiting in line, you hear it popping, you see it, all of the pops, kernels coming out of the, whatever you call it, the metal dish thing where the kernels pop and they flow down into the pool of kernels. You can smell it, you can see it, it's the anticipation as you're in the line, there's real theatricality to popcorn.
Oh yeah, Did I tell you about my favorite concession stand person?
Yes, I love that.
So shout out to this woman who worked at the Arclight, the dome.
The Cinerama Dome. She just layered the butter in between every scoop of popcorn, so you have butteriness all the way through... I always got in her line when I saw her like, she's so good.
But I do that too, I'll take the salt packets and put them in my pocket, and then when I get a quarter down, I'll resalt it... 'cause if you only salt it in the lobby, you just get the top like two inches with salt guys. So yeah, I have a strategy.
Do you do the unlimited popcorn? Like the endless popcorn bucket.
Oh yeah. The medium is never enough, and I understand that the medium is like 900 servings.
It's bad though, 'cause I'll get the bottomless popcorn bucket and then I'll try to eat as much of it as I can during the previews so that I can go grab more popcorn and fill it back up to the top before the actual movie starts.
Everybody's got a strategy. But I will buy the memberships to all of the theaters and then you get the bump up...
So you'd be like, Hello, I'm an AMC premiere stubs member. I'd like a medium, but actually, a large popcorn because I get the upgrade.
Did I mention, I'm a Stubs member. I'm on the A list.
I loved it. With the A list, I loved it. When they started putting out your own aisle with the velvet rope for the A-list stubs members, they know how to get us...
They do. I mean, that was... Our dinner at least once a week was just popcorn because we would go on those special ticket Tuesday nights.
Yeah, the 5 dollar movies? Oh yeah. Popcorn for dinner.
Popcorn for dinner, recliner seat. A great movie. I loved it.
They get so comfortable now I actually slept through all of Rogue One. Cuz it was Christmas time, I was in Buffalo with my family and my dad wanted to take all of his kids on a fun dad night. So we went to a Mexican restaurant and then he took us to see Rogue One. But we've gone to this Mexican restaurant, so I had eaten like 28 enchiladas and a margarita, the size of my head, and then we get into the theater and it had these reclining leather seats, and also because we were in Buffalo, New York, they were heated. There was a little button on the side like a car seat warmer...
I conked out. By the third preview, I woke up and I was like, Is that the Death Star? Credits roll. That was it.
Oh my gosh, I love it.
You know, Lia, We've talked a lot about food trends, we've talked a lot about foods, they get popular, but they come and go. Yeah, but like we said in the first episode, foods aren't part of our rituals, yes, there are parts of our culture, so we haven't talked yet about the foods that don't come and go, the foods that kind of stick around and get embedded in our experiences, so what about those and this is a fantastic one.
Popcorn being inextricably linked to entertainment, and specifically, we're gonna talk about movies, so today in the deep dish, we are going to dive into the love story between popcorn and movies that is a century in the making. To set the scene... We're right back there, 1893 World Fair where it's popping. So in 1893, a man named Charles creators invented a portable popcorn machine, which really set our story in motion. So Charles Craters is attached a steam engine to a peanut cart with a mechanism that would pop the corn in oil, but the steam engine was a little bit much, so you he confined it, and by 1900, he improved it with an electric engine and a contraption that would better and salt the popcorn.
There was a huge draw of these small portable popcorn carts, and I was looking at pictures of these, and what's really interesting is we still make popcorn machines that look exactly like the one that he made, so like the ornate red borders and the circus lettering, and you can see the gears, like the wheel on the inside that looks like what this guy made even though now are like USB powered. The most important aspect of this was that it was portable because, for decades, vendors had operated out of wagons parked near theaters, circuses, ballparks, selling a variety of snacks, they were basically like the original food trucks...
But the portable cards meant they could be more mobile, more independent, and easily go from place to place following the events that had the most people, so popcorn was especially a popular snack to sell for these vendors because it was very, very cheap and the smell was its own advertisement, right? The smell of popcorn is unique, it's very powerful, it's very attractive, and it spreads. So a few years after Craters invented this portable popcorn machine in 1905, the first movie theater opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and it was basically just a bunch of folding chairs set up around a projector in a storefront, and the owner named it The Nickelodeon because a nickel is how much a ticket cost and Odeon is ancient Greek for theater, and movies have been shown between acts in Vaudeville shows, or in theaters on nights that there weren't shows, there was nothing dedicated to movies, they were kind of filler until these storefront Nickelodeon starting popping up all over the place. But then in 1913, the first real movie theater opened in New York City. Yeah, so this theater gave it a seriousness or respectability and have established movies as a medium on their own, theater started building all over the country, and then in 1918, Browmans Chinese Theater opened up in Hollywood, which is probably the most iconic movie theater in the world.
And these early theaters were gorgeous, they were ornate, they were richly decorated because they wanted to harness the appeal of glamorous Hollywood and give the moviegoers a little taste of that glamor make them feel like they were movie stars going into these premieres. So, listeners, I don't know if you've ever been in these old theaters that they are just art deco 1920s, 1930s theaters, but they are just astounding. Movie going at this point with getting very popular, but it was mostly a middle and upper-class thing, and I'll explain why in a minute. So two major things happened in the late 1920s that led to the simultaneous boom of popcorn and movie theaters. By the late 1920s, we had all these beautiful venues, Hollywood was up and running out in California, movie-going culture was a thing, there were all these production companies pumping out movies, so movie technology started getting some real investment and attention, which led to sound, music, effect and most importantly, dialogue. In 1927, The Jazz Singer was the first movie with sound. It premiered in New York City at the Warner Brothers theater. And you could see the whole story of this era in this wonderful documentary called Singing in the Rain. It's not a documentary, but it is my favorite. It is my favorite movie.
Singing in the Rain Clip
Speaker 1: “Everybody go home until further notice. What is this?”
Speaker 2: “Yeah what’s the matter?”
Speaker 3: “The Jazz Singer, that's what's the matter. The Jazz Singer.”
Singer 1: “Oh my god a little mammy. Down in Alabamy….”
Speaker 3: “This is no joke Cosmo It’s a sensation. The public is screaming for more.
Speaker 2: “More what?”
Speaker 3: “Talking pictures. Talking pictures.”
Speaker 2: “Awhhh it's just a freak.”
Speaker 3: “Yeah what a freak. We should have such a freak at this studio. I told you talking pictures were a menace, but no one would listen to me. Don, we are going to put our best feet forward. We are going to make the Duleen Cavalier into a talking picture.”
Speaker 2: “Talking picture? Well, that means I’m out of a job! At last, I can stop suffering and write that symphony.”
Speaker 3: “You’re not out of a job. We are putting you in as head of the new music department.”
Speaker 2: “Well thanks RF. At last, I can stop suffering and write that symphony.”
Speaker 1: “Now wait a second Mr. Simpson, talking pictures… I think you should wait to…
Speaker 3: “Every studio is jumping on the bandwagon, Dexter. All the theaters are putting in sound equipment. We don’t want to be left out of it.”
Speaker 1: “We don’t know anything about this gadget.”
Speaker 3: “What do you have to know? It’s a picture. You do what you always did. You just add talking to it.”
Speaker 1: “Yeah.”
Speaker 3: “Don, believe me, it would be a sensation! Lamont and Lockwood. They talk.”
Speaker 4: “Well, of course, we talk. Don’t everybody?”
So remember how I said that movie-going was mostly a middle or upper-class thing...
Okay, so in a silent movie when there's no dialogue, how does the movie tell you what's going on?
You have to read it.
Right, you have to be able to read it. The title cards, the subtitles, so the only people that could really enjoy studio Hollywood films up into that point were people who could read.
But because you could hear the dialogue now, illiterate Americans could finally enjoy the movies too.
That's so true.
So sound in movies wasn't just a milestone for technology, it wasn't just a milestone for the arts, it was a milestone for accessibility.
Yeah. Now it's just opened it up to so many more people to be able to take part and watch movies. Yeah.
So that's the first thing that happened in the late 20s. The next thing, of course, was the stock market crash of 1929 brought on the Great Depression, popcorn, as we said, it was a very, very cheap food, and like Ella Kellogg discovered it was very filling and had a lot of nutritional value, and during all trying times, we need some entertainment. We need some comfort. We need some joy. And so movies were cheap escapism, right. So the result was while sales of all other snack foods and treats declined popcorn sales actually rose.
During the Depression. Yeah, and so did movie-going... Get this in 1930, weekly movie attendance soared to 90 million people in the US when the total population was only 123 million people.
What? That's insane.
So 90 out of 123, like 75% of people were going to the movies. Every single week.
Oh my goodness.
Isn't that insane. So what were ubiquitous around any kind of event and entertainment, the food vendors, right, the food vendors started showing up outside of movie theaters and selling popcorn became like a depression-era cottage industry because there was a huge profit... An article I read from the Smithsonian said that one 10 dollar bag of popcorn kernels in the 1930s with the last for years.
So a lot of popcorn vendors, we're standing outside theaters, theaters wanted nothing to do with these vendors, they did not want your nasty snacks in their gorgeous, classy, ornate movie theaters. It would ruin the experience. It would be distracting from the films, they thought, and people would trash the place. It would ruin the lovely runs and the sticky spills and they're greasy popcorn fingerprints and you know what? They're 100%, right. They're 100%, right.
Yeah, that's true.
We are filthy. There is no refined way to eat popcorn, as I said, I eat it like a frog, that's the cleanest way that I can eat it, there's no way to not get crumbs everywhere. They're totally right. So theaters would put up signs at coat-checks that said, Check your coats and your popcorn. Vendors would sneak in and walk up and down the aisles to sell popcorn and other snacks... And they get chased down.
But then an enterprising Woman, Julia Braden, came up with a scheme to put her popcorn business ahead of the rest and ended up creating the business model that movie theaters still use to this day.
So Julia Braden was an entrepreneur in Kansas City, Missouri, who had a popcorn cart, and she would set up shop outside of movie theaters, but standing outside movie theaters was annoying.
She had to deal with the weather. She had to deal with other vendors and compete with them to get the best space or to get the best customers, the theaters would chase them away. Then a theater declared that it was gonna charge vendors a dollar a day to stand outside their theater. And this gave Julia a kernel of an idea. I love my puns.
Puns are the best.
It's the season finale. You weren’t gonna get out of here without some puns, guys, you knew this... She approached the Linwood theater of Kansas City and said, Listen, instead of charging me a dollar to stand outside, why don't you let me come inside, set up shop in your lobby and I will give you a cut of my popcorn sales because I know you're not making barely anything on those stupid tickets. But people love my noms... We could be making bank and after some, you know, buttering up, after some persuading the Linwood agreed, which started Julia Braden’s popcorn empire. By 1931, she owned popcorn stands in movie theaters all over town and was pulling in more than 14,400 a year, which is the equivalent of 336,000 today.
What? Amazing, what a genius.
Her business grew, even in the midst of The Depression because theater owners that had her popcorn stands could lower the price of tickets to draw people to their theater knowing that they make up that money with the concession sales... Right, which may have helped the movie houses in Kansas City to stay afloat, even when the big expensive, ornate, or made hard-to-run theaters around the country, we're going bust. So whether she knew it or not, Julia Braden pioneered a new movie business strategy, that the money was in the concessions... Not the tickets.
Wow, I did not know this was from Julie, Braden. This is how it still runs today.
It still runs today, right? So, Lia, you and I know from working at a movie company that the exhibitors meaning the theater companies don't make a ton of money off the ticket sales because part of the agreement with the distribution companies that actually distribute the films is that they get a share of any revenue that comes in from the ticket sales, so only about half of their money comes from these ticket sales, but they get all the money they want from the concession...
So, theatres sell popcorn at a mark up between 800 and 1500%. They make an estimated 85% profit off concession sales, which constitute 46% on average of a movie theaters overall profits. So yeah, that popcorn that you just paid for is absolutely not where 8 dollars... You're right, we all know it.
And we do it.
We do it anyway. It's part of the agreement, and this has been the butt of many jokes and many complaints, and at least one lawsuit. In 2012, after the local AMC Theatre in Livonia, Michigan banned outside food, a man named Joshua Thompson sued them overcharging on snacks and demanded that either AMC allowed outside food in, or they lower the price of snacks... It got thrown out obviously, but it is the most American thing I have ever heard.
Yeah. You know he's still bringing snacks in from the outside, you know that dude.
Hey, man. You can sneak in snacks in your pants like the rest of us.
When you hear that crack of a can in a theatre.
What do you think umbrellas are for, if not hiding tallboys.
Of course, I have to bring this huge purse in with me.
That's why you get the person with so many compartments, they're not gonna make you unzip the side pocket. This new business model caught on. Theaters started regularly renting space to vendors inside their lobbies, but then in the mid-1930s, exhibitors like a man named RJ McKenna, who ran a chain of theaters in California, took it a step further, RJ McKenna, had one of these theaters which had vendors hanging out outside, and he found out that an old man who's been peddling popcorn outside of one of his movie houses had amassed enough money from the popcorn to buy a car, a house, aπ farm, and a store.
This is the inspiration for the Yumday snack shop. Guys, I'm just gonna pedal popcorn.
Keep selling that popcorn, Lia. Some people have real studios.
It's simple, that's all I wanna do.
Anyway, so McKenna found this out and he was like, Screw the rugs.
He installed commercial popcorn machines in his lobbies, he built vents in the walls to let the smoke from the oil escape, and he made as much as 200000 dollars a year just from these popcorn stands alone.
Yes, I even read several stories about theater chains and how they would put popcorn machines in some theaters and not others, and the ones without the popcorn machines all closed. Showing the same movies, but the theaters with the popcorn machines stayed open. Isn't that crazy.
That's pretty crazy.
I hate giving quotes without the source, I couldn't find the source for this, but it kept coming up in different articles, I was reading a movie entrepreneur at time said, find a good popcorn location and build a theater around it.
So this brings us up to the late 1930s, and over the course of that decade, of course, Hollywood kept growing, the movie industry kept growing, and technology grew including the use of color in film. So filmmakers had been playing around with color since the 1910s, but it was perfected and exploded onto the scene with the iconic classic beloved 1938 film... What am I gonna say, Lia?
Wizard of Oz.
The Wizard of Oz.
So good. I love it.
The first full-color studio film, I was getting choked up last night thinking about this because like, imagine it's 1938, you're in the audience. You're watching this movie. The movie's going along. It's already crazy. It's already bonkers. You're like, What the f***? She's flying on a bike, she's stuck in a tornado. What is happening now? This is crazy. And then Dorothy walks from black and white into color.
It is amazing.
Can you imagine being in that audience, you're with Dorothy, you're seeing this for the first time too. And the ruby slippers. All of it. Just amazing. Anyway, getting verklempt, then of course, at the end of 1941, we enter World War II, because of things like our supply chains being cut off, the Germans and Japanese were tanking our cargo ships and the fact that we were providing food for our allies in Europe. Who are basically starving after fighting the war for so many years, in spring of 1942, the US started a rationing program, and sugar was the first thing to be rationed, so families were limited to only two pounds of sugar a month.
And bakeries on candy manufacturers had to work with only two-thirds of the normal amount of sugar, so obviously candy-sweet treats, baked goods started disappearing, but you know, what wasn't rationed? Salt.
You could get salty stuff.
And certainly, corn wasn't being rationed... We have entire states made of corn, right? I'm talking about Nebraska, I'm looking at you. So popcorn was one of the only quote non-essential food, so snack foods that actually saw sales increase during the war because they were taking the place of all these other snacks that couldn't be made because of the rationing, and at the same time, movie-going increased both because of the escapism that we've talked about, but also because that's where you got news about the war...
Yes, that's right.
In the newsreel. So all of this cements popcorn as inextricably linked to Movies.
Let’s All Go to the Lobby Song
“Let's all go to the lobby;
Let's all go to the lobby;
Let's all go to the lobby
To get ourselves a treat.
Delicious things to eat;
The popcorn can't be beat.”
Since then, our entertainment habits have changed, our movie-going habits have changed, but what's really interesting is it seems like whatever happens, popcorn goes... Where the movies go.
So for example, in the 1950s, 1960s, people started getting televisions in their homes, which meant they didn't need to go out to a theater to get some screened entertainment, they had it at home, so it was the first time movie-going declined. So the popcorn industry adjusted and made popcorn for home viewing. Jiffy pop was introduced in 1960. Stovetop poppers, air poppers with watching television while eating the popcorn, prominently featured in all their advertising. They knew what it was for. Yeah, then in the 1970s, microwave ovens started becoming commercially available to people, so popcorn adjusted again, and in 1981, the first microwaveable popcorn hit the shelves all the time, still advertising, still trying to mimic the movie-going experience. They're all like movie theater butter.
Yep, it is. The packaging has little curtains on it, like the Act 2.
The film strip, lines on the side... Yeah.
Orville Redenbacher Commercial
“Now appearing at a living room near you. Orville Redenbacher’s theater-style popcorn. Our pour over pouch lets you add all the buttery topping you want. So nothing tastes fresher or more buttery. Ultimate theater-style popcorn from Orville Redenbacher. Just like at the movies. Only better."
And then in the 1980s and 90s, when video rental was huge, just pour one out for Blockbusters.
You know, Popcorn was always a part of it. Remember where you'd get two videos and you got free popcorn...
Yeah, totally, that would be like, Well, I guess I gotta get my second video so I can get the popcorn with it.
It was great. That's how I saw any movie that wasn't a new release as they were like If you get a new release and you get an old-timey movie nobody wants... You get a free popcorn...
Yeah, that's right, I would get the old-timey movie.
Something in black and white, a lot of horses. So that special-ness of the taste, the smell, the experience of eating popcorn, the nostalgia we have of having popcorn at the movies is all part of our expectation of it, it's all part of the draw. So this is just a perfect example of how a food became part of a ritual and a cultural ritual, not something religious.
Not something ancient, but just something that grew out of the time, the place, the events, the politics, the agriculture, and the emotional needs of our culture, of our world, and it stuck.
It did. That was awesome. That was so great. I love actually walking through how this became part of our day-to-day, and how I always expect like, have popcorn or make popcorn right before I sit down and watch a show or a movie at home, and if I don't have the popcorn, did it even happen?
Did it even happen? Did you even see that movie? Can't talk about it.
And I love the story about Julia Brighten.
I mean, why... Do we know her name? Why isn't she taught in business schools? Maybe she is, I didn't go to business school. But man, we've uncovered so many incredible women in food history over the last eight episodes.
We have. Names that, I've never heard of before until now, business owners, writers, activists.
Yeah, all kinds of activists, publishers, creators, inventors, businesswomen. It's just so awesome. That was something that we wanted when we started out was to highlight these “hidden figures” of the food world, and everyone that we come up with is just so exciting.
Yeah, it really is. We just get really excited.
We get really excited, Listeners.
Really thrilled, but we're like, Oh, did you hear about this? And it makes us mad too for a little because we're like, why?
Why have I never heard this name, and now we know her name, Julia Braden.
So we're talking about entertainment and food and just... That's what we're all about here at Every Day as a Food Day, that's what we wanna give you, movies took off because people wanted some escapism and to feel something, and so our kind of core directive and everything that we've done, whether it's heavy research on these topics and these women or our Instagram posts, honestly, it all... It all comes back to this principle of we wanna give you something that is joyful and fascinating.
We wanna give you a few minutes where you can come into the room with us, be part of our conversation and escape from the bleak, bleak s*** that is going on and has been going on for a while now. So we hope that we've been successful in that, I know that for me, it's just been such a joy.
Oh yeah, no, this is... It's so wonderful to be able to hang out with your friend, tell some really amazing stories about incredible people that many of us have never heard of before, and to share that kind of hidden history, really cool facts. And then just have fun and laugh.
Yeah, and celebrate food. We hope when you have peanut butter or bacon or donuts, you'll think of us.
Yeah, you have that fruit cake, think of us.
Thank you for going on this journey with us. We love you.
We love you guys.
Food stores are people's stories, and every one of you has a story too. If there is a spring.
If there is one. We'll see you in a bit.
If there is a spring, We'll see you then.
We can’t thank you all enough for joining us for the first season of Every Day is a Food Day. We’ll be back later in the year with more episodes, but in the meantime, we’ll have some treats for you so please connect with us on Instagram @FoodDayPod or sign up for our newsletter at yumday.co/podcast
The clips you heard today were from “Singin in the Rain” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” both from MGM Studios, and “Let’s all go to the Lobby” courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Every Day is a Food Day is a production of Van Valin Productions and YumDay. It was created, written, and hosted by Lia Ballentine and Anna Van Valin. Our production intern is Emma Massey, and our marketing intern is Elaine Oh.
See you soon!
Bye! Happy 2021! Hang in there.
We love you!
We love you! Eat snacks!
Snack it up.