Successful relationships are built on sacrifice. This is a lesson I learned about four years ago, when my wife and co-parent was very much with our second child.
Microwave popcorn, apparently, smells bad. This smell, combined with the hormonal break-dancing going on inside her body at the time, made her want to throw up. Thus, I did what most decent men would do in such a situation, which was to wait until she had gone to bed before I ate this delicious snack.
You would assume that this would solve what had been a pretty tricky dilemma. Unfortunately, many pregnant women, my wife included, develop hypersensitive olfactory skills. They smell things that are not really there, or, at least things that don’t seem to be there to the average unpregnant person.
There is an obvious biological rationale to this, of course. Often in human history, bad smells do come from potentially harmful —even toxic — substances. It was not until her second trimester, however, that I discovered that microwave popcorn happens to fall into that very category: toxic!
“Why do you have to make that microwave popcorn?” She would say. “It makes me sick.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I wait until you’re asleep before I eat it.”
“But I’m not asleep.”
“But you’re in bed. I assumed you were asleep.”
“How can I sleep with that smell?”
“I think you’re exaggerating.” (Never say this to a pregnant woman.)
“(Mild explicative.) I am not exaggerating! I’ll throw up on you right now, if you don’t believe me. Besides, that stuff is bad for your lungs.”
“You’re just being crazy again. How is microwave popcorn bad for your lungs? I’m not smoking it.”
“It just is. There’s a chemical in it that gets in your lungs when you pop it. I told you that already.”
“Well, what am I suppose to eat for a bedtime snack, then?”
And thus the conversation would end. At the time, I chalked up the toxicity talk to semi-conscious babbledly bok, but, unfortunately, as it turns out, she was right. Left to its own devices, microwave popcorn will kill you.
I looked it up online, and, according to a report by the Food and Drug Administration, microwave popcorn bags are coated with a chemical. When heated, this coating breaks down into a substance known as perfluorooctanoic (PFOA). Like most unpronounceable terms with rather benign-looking acronyms, perfluorooctanoic is a “likely carcinogen.” What is worse, an acid derived from this substance, when injected into volunteer laboratory animals, has caused cancer and thus would mostly likely cause cancer in any human willing to be injected with a proportionate amount. (No thanks.) As if that was not horrifying enough, most microwave popcorn is also coated with another substance known as diacytel, which almost sounds like something you would ingest voluntarily to lose weight. Diacytel is fake butter flavoring and also one of the leading causes of bronchiolitis obliterans, a respiratory illness suffered by popcorn factory workers who have inhaled the chemical’s fumes over an extended amount of time.
What I had always liked about microwave popcorn was its reputation as a fairly healthy snack. It has fewer calories, fat and cholesterol than many of my former bedtime snacks, such as cheese and crackers or milk and cookies. I really thought I had found a reasonable mesh of nutrition and taste. However, substances which inspire scientists to break out their Latin in order to avoid names like Popcorn Lung Rot probably are not good for you.
Granted, I am not a popcorn factory worker who has been breathing diacytel for years and years, nor am I a laboratory mouse who has been injected with toxic levels of the substance to find out if the substance is toxic. However, I was, and am, a happily married man who wanted to remain so, and therefore it seemed my microwave popcorn days had come to an end. At least until they come out with a new report that says perfluorooctanoic actually lowers cholesterol and gets rid of unwanted nose hair.
In the meantime, I have sacrificed this once-delicious snack and replaced it with popcorn popped with an actual popcorn maker. This method is more joyful, anyway, as the kids like to watch the kernels pop and then saturate the stuff with fake cheese flavoring, which, most likely, causes scabies.