Monday, January 19, 2015


Today, Popcorn is a popular snack product.  However, not long ago, this was a treat enjoyed only at the movies or circuses.

Times change and people's habits change.  New technologies are ushered in and new patterns of consumption emerge.   Popcorn is one example of this.   Futurist Faith Popcorn in fact changed her last name to "Popcorn" as she correctly identified this trend.   She foretold that popcorn would become a popular snack food, long before it actually did.

When I was a kid in the 1960's, making popcorn at home was not a regular thing.   Popcorn was a special treat, reserved for special occasions, such as the movies or the circus, which is why this snack is still mostly associated with those venues.

But by the 1970's, this pattern started to change.  I remember vividly the first time I had popcorn at home.  My parents were vacationing in Haiti (this was a long time ago!) and a house sitter, a kindly old lady (who you would not mess with) told us if we were good, she would make us popcorn.   And like magic, she got out a pan and made it on the stove.   I watched carefully, as I wanted to learn how to do this.

Until then, popcorn was a pretty labor intensive pain-in-the-ass to make.   Sure, they had Jiffy-Pop, but that was quite expensive and my parents refused to buy it, saying it was a "gimmick".   The popcorn section in the local grocery store had two brands of popcorn, that came in plastic bags or maybe a cardboard tube.

No one had microwaves back then - and microwave popcorn was a long ways away.

But around this time, electric popcorn makers, which were little more than teflon-coated heating elements with plastic lids, became a popular Christmas gift, and I begged my parents to get me one.   Perhaps the invention of teflon - an offshoot of heat coatings from the moon landing project - was what allowed home popcorn poppers to flourish.

Pretty soon, we were making popcorn on a regular basis.  Shortly thereafter, the "hot air" popcorn popper became popular, and we had to get one of these as well.   It was sort of a hair dryer with a plastic basket at one end and it blew hot air on the pop corn until it popped. Both types of popcorn poppers had "butter melters" on them, that got all slimy and gross after the first use, no matter how much you tried to clean them.

In conjunction with these new machines - based on new technologies - new popcorns started to appear.  Orville Redenbacher appeared on TV with his trademark suspenders, and suddenly there was name-brand designer popcorn you could buy, whereas only a few short years ago, there was one store brand, if you were lucky.

Pre-made popcorn snacks started to increase.  Fiddle-faddle, Screaming Yellow Zonkers, and of course, the ubiquitous orange-powder covered "cheese" popcorn could be found in the chip and snacks aisle, and actually be somewhat fresh for a change (until then, bagged popcorn was as fresh as, and tasted like, those Styrofoam packing peanuts).  Not long after, white cheese popcorn appeared, and was being touted as healthy or natural.  It certainly was salty and tasty!

Faith Popcorn was right about something.  Our generation had the muchies and popcorn was satisfying the urge - in a big way.

The price of microwaves dropped once the Amana Touchmatic(tm) RadarRange(tm) Patents expired and now almost anyone could afford one.  Problem was, what do you make with them?   People tried making boiled eggs in the microwave, if you can believe that.

Microwave popcorn to the rescue!  At first, it didn't quite work right, but before long, these pouches of magic were turning out scalding hot bags of delicious popcorn, sometimes buttered and flavored - at about 400 calories per bag!  (Ouch). 

Microwave popcorn really took off.  And people started eating it by the bagful.   In many offices, signs went up banning microwave popcorn from the office.  The smell would permeate the hallways and some folks complained that it made the office "smell like a circus!"

And we all at it and gained weight and got fat.   Well I did.   Others are still doing it.

The hulls, of course, get caught in your gums.  I think the microwave kind are worse than normal popcorn, as the hulls are hard and sharp - like little razor blades.

Not only do they attack your mouth, but your guts as well.   Before long, I was having problems with diverticulitis, and my Doctor said, "No more Popcorn, PERIOD!"

It was hard to give up.  But tasty treat versus little razor blades in your intestines is an easy choice to make - after a few nasty infections bring home the point.   I haven't had popcorn in a decade.

But others continue to munch on.  

So, what is the point of this?  Is popcorn bad?   Not really.  It's isn't health food, either.  It is a starch and has a lot of calories and if you eat a bag of it every day it will be bad for your health.

The point of this blog entry is this:  Consumption habits that may seem ingrained and a "normal" part of our environment today, may not have existed at all, just a few short years or decades ago.  We get used to things because they become norms, and we don't question them.

And it seems the cycle time for new products and trends is getting shorter and shorter.  We adapt instantly to new ideas and new products and then just assume we need them or "have to have" them, without questioning why or how it got this way.

People ridicule Faith Popcorn for her funny name.  And much of her predictions are off the wall.   But the biggest one she made - and literally staked her name on - she nailed to a "T".   Popcorn went from the margins to mainstream inside of a decade.   And most folks never thought about it, even as it happened before their eyes.

Look around in your own world and think about the things you "have to have" in your life and think about whether they are really necessary to living, or just things that are now available and cheaper and "affordable" (so we think) because of improved technology.

Our lives have changed over the last couple of decades, for better and worse, in large ways and small.   For most, they ride this wave of change and let it wash over them.   Others try to choose their own destiny.   The latter is much, much harder to do, but often more rewarding in the long run.