Green popcorn project
A writer and her mom go searching for the good stuff
I don’t even like popcorn. I only eat the stuff sold at movie theaters, drenched in fake butter and oozing salt, and I’m not even sure why I do that. But something compelled me to make a batch of the nasty whole-grain stuff at home, using certified-organic popcorn kernels and butter.
Maybe it was the article I read about the trouble with conventionally grown and processed popcorn. Corn is raised using insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and fumigants. And that’s only part of the problem.
For whatever reason, I asked my mom if she wanted to help cook up some green popcorn. She said yes and that she’d “supply the food coloring.” Oh great, I thought, it’s already starting.
We went to the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op in search of organic popcorn kernels sold in bulk and a bar of butter. Although high in saturated fat, butter is better than margarine, a chemically processed food with hydrogenated oils that produce trans fatty acids in the body.
“Make a point to say how I paid for all the ingredients,” Mom ordered.
She also paid for a box of microwavable organic popcorn, which was packaged in a terribly wasteful way: bag wrapped in plastic, sold in a cardboard box.
Additionally, the Teflon that coats some microwave popcorn bags can break down into a chemical linked to cancer and birth defects in animals. Teflon—as in that nonstick coating found on frying pans—off-gasses toxins when heated to high temperatures. One troublesome chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, has sickened humans and poisoned household birds, according to the Environmental Working Group.
In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nicely asked DuPont, the manufacturers of Teflon, to stop using perfluorooctanoic acid. The company agreed to phase the chemical out completely by 2015.
After grocery shopping, I did some polite asking of my own, pleading with my parents to further assist with the green popcorn project.
“I’m not going to help,” said Dad defiantly. “We’re not going to help.”
“Say, ‘We ain’t gonna help,’” Mom added. “Make us sound like hicks.”
Eventually, they acquiesced, and as they set to work pouring oil in a pot and dumping in one-half cup of kernels, I pop-quizzed them.
“Guess how many quarts of popcorn Americans consume each year.”
“Twenty,” said Dad.
“One hundred and sixty thousand,” said Mom. The correct answer: 16 billion.
“You guys, listen to me! I’m teaching you about popcorn! Do you think there are any problems with conventional popcorn?”
“We love the way it tastes,” Mom said.
“There’s not a thing wrong with it,” agreed Dad.
“How do you feel about genetically modified corn?” I asked.
“We both stand opposed,” Mom said.
Though the Popcorn Board says no genetically modified popcorn is available for sale in the United States, this isn’t guaranteed. After all, corn pollen drifts on windy days contaminating other crops.
“Have you heard of the popcorn-flavoring agent diacetyl?” I asked.
This chemical has sickened factory workers and even a popcorn-obsessed consumer in Colorado, and the state of California tried to ban the chemical’s use. Regardless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies diacetyl as safe.
Some companies have pulled the ingredient, including the American Popcorn Company, ConAgra Foods and Weaver Popcorn, according to Deirdre Flynn, executive director of the Popcorn Board.
But enough with these boring facts! My parents finished cooking the popcorn, burned the pot, bickered and yelled, but then, as families do, we came together and enjoyed a big bowl of eco-friendly, organic popcorn.
Well, they enjoyed it. I still think popcorn tastes nasty.