Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Movie Theater Concession and Nutrition Labelling

I came across a rather interesting article regarding movie theater popcorn and proposed legislation to force theaters to disclose the nutrition information in their concessions - and suggesting that they include alternate, healthier movie snacks such as yogurt, granola bars, and vegetables along with their traditional fare.

Now, I'm a bit torn. On one hand, I'm all for truth in labelling and see this only as a good thing. I mean, one of my once-or-twice-a-year guilty pleasures is going to an earlier evening movie, and making a dinner out of popcorn, nachos, and movie theater candy. Especially if it's a traditional summertime "popcorn" movie - nothing beats a hot day killing some time in a frigidly air-conditioned movie theater with my sweetie, hands greasy from dipping into the super-duper-extra-butter popcorn bag (and of course, pockets full of salt packets for the inevitable sodium drop-off after we skim the top layer of popcorn), interspersed with chewy sugar bombs like Skittles or Starburst. Or, if we're feeling incredibly sinful, we'll have theater nachos: corn chips covered with warm, goopy neon-orange "cheese" that just tastes unbeliavably yummy. All while slurping down a Diet Coke twice the size of my head.

Afterwards, of course, I always feel incredibly guilty and atone by tacking on extra workouts (never hard in the nice weather) and eating boring green salads for the next week - with none of the fun add-ons like bacon, bleu cheese, etc.

Now. Labels are good - and I want labels - because a) I like to know exactly that I'm eating and b) It almost goes without saying, but anyone with a food allergy/insensitivity/restriction wants the added assurance that what they're eating is definitely safe. While we've always encountered wonderfully accommodating theater staff who bring out labels for us to read, more disclosure is always a good thing in my book.

Would it cause me to eat less? Of course! I mean, I love the Cheesecake Factory but after realizing how many calories I was consuming in my favorite dishes, I definitely reduced the amount of food that I consume when I go there. A mixed drink for 300, 400 calories? No, thanks, I'll stick to water. Salads that are just as calorie-dense as some of the huge dishes? I'll pass on the salad and force myself to eat only half of the entree I order. Appetizers, dessert? Definitely not (or at least, package it in a to-go box for later consumption).

Would I still go and order food? Yes - and the frequency probably wouldn't change. I mean, once a year or so isn't that bad to have a big blow-out. I may not eat quite as much - perhaps going for drinks and a salad beforehand rather than scarfing down the entire meal at the theater - but once in a while, it's probably not going to kill me.

Would I order healthier food?

Um, no.

To me, eating a yogurt or crudites while sitting in a chair in a large room full of strangers, eyes trained at the movie theater screen - is as foreign and distateful as those yahoos that sometimes sneak an entire fried chicken dinner into the theater with them, making the entire room smell like fried chicken, crinkling aluminum foil, and passing sides like cole slaw. (Yes, I've actually seen this).

Yogurt? If it requires one or more utensil to eat, it's probably not a good idea to have in the theater. Let's stick to finger foods here.
Crudites - most likely with dip? Well first of all depending on the amount and type of dip, this might be the nutritional equivelent of the buttered popcorn. But with that aside, most veggies - carrots, celery, etc. - are crunchy. I'd feel paranoid throughout the entire movie that I was the annoying loud person every time I chewed - or more likely, I'd be the person shooting dirty looks and wishing bad things upon the loud chewers. And really, I don't need the bad karma.

No, I think the content of movie theater snacks should remain the same. I mean, I'm not opposed to some healthful changes - like using better oils - but if I wanted air-popped kettle corn with no added salt, I'd have made it at home.

That said, I do think the industry would be well-served by re-vamping their portion sizes. A "small" soda is ridiculous! I mean honestly, who can drink that much in the span of two or three hours without getting up for a pee break or missing the movie, or ruining the end of the movie for themselves by tightly crossing their legs until their eyes turn yellow and counting down to the credits when they can make the mad dash to be first in line for the bathroom? Plus - I drink diet soda, but most people drink something sweetened - now that is a lot of calories before you even get to the concessions. Offer a 12 oz size, and people would buy it.

Popcorn too - I understand the need for larger sizes, and my husband and I usually share a small. But since it's never good the next day, you're forced to finish the entire bag and feel like a pig or else waste a ton of food. And while some people can, and want to, put away that much, and other people share with a large group - other people go to the theater alone. Or want just a little bit. A single-serving popcorn (think, the size of one of those 100-calorie microwave popcorn bags) would work well here.

Finally, theater candy. Do we really need huge boxes when the size sold at grocery checkouts would do for most people? Better yet - get some bulk bins in there so people can take what they want, how much they want, mix and match, and then just pay by weight. (Crossgates already has a bulk candy store, FYI).

So overall -- nutrition labelling is a great idea that I support. But before revamping the theater menu, understand that individual-sized portions are likely to have a warmer reception than, say, swapping out the nachos for granola.

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