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Column: Movie snack secrets

Last weekend's extreme cold prompted Minnesotans to hide indoors. I was supposed to head up to St. Paul to check out the Winter Carnival parade, but chickened out at the last minute. The forecast was too disturbing. Visions of grey toes and tingling fingers scared me. I decided the local movie theater might provide a Saturday outing with a lower risk of frostbite. What could be safer than a movie?

Unfortunately, when I Googled for local movie listings, an article from Reader's Digest popped up at the top of the list, "13 Things a Movie Theater Employee Won't Tell You." Of course I had to read it before locating the showtimes. What I sadly learned is movie theater employees' secrets mostly involve health threats lurking in the local multiplex. The employees claimed the floors are filthy and chemicals are pumped into the air to create a faux popcorn aroma. Most of the health threats involved consuming the foods at the concession stand, where antique hot dogs and bacteria-filled nacho cheese reign supreme. One employee cheekily claimed theaters sell days-old popcorn, stating customers often confuse "warm" with "fresh."

By this point, I was grossed out. The sticky floors in theaters are no secret, but the old popcorn was alarming. Aren't popcorn sales supposedly how theaters make all of their money?

Although it's not my proudest moment, I'll grudgingly admit to hurting movie theater profits by skipping the popcorn. In college I used to sneak in my own treats because I couldn't afford both a ticket and a tub of the buttered stuff. Back when there was a two-dollar cheap theater in Apple Valley, my friends and I would stop by the grocery store before the show to load up on snacks. I usually stuck to a single-serving bag of Doritos or a granola bar discreetly tucked into my handbag, but some of my college buddies had much bigger appetites. One guy I knew used to wear a huge trench coat to movies just because he could hide a 2-liter of orange soda in the liner. I'm not sure how he managed to move without dropping the bottle on the ground, but somehow he pulled it off every time.

At the other extreme sat my friend who was a perennial dieter in college. She always brought a Ziploc baggie full of baby carrots and celery sticks to movies. We started sitting in the front row because people kept turning around to give her dirty looks every time she crunched down on a piece of celery.

I now see the wisdom of her ways. A baggie of celery is whole lot safer than ancient popcorn or nacho cheese swimming with bacteria. After learning the frightening secrets of movie theater employees, I opted for a food-safe evening at home with Netflix and my own snacks. I even have a few squares of heart-healthy dark chocolate as a special movie treat. After wiping down the remote with hand sanitizer I settled in for a cinematic experience, and I lived to tell the story. Between the weather and the movie theater snacks actively trying to kill you, sometimes it's a good idea to spend a Minnesota winter night indoors.