Orville Redenbacher The worst person of all time

Published 3:16 pm Friday, March 26, 2010

Its a brand we trust, a snack we draft into commission at the drop of a hat. Just slap it in the microwave and, in 2 to 4 minutes, youve got a nice treat thats a healthy alternative to harmful snacks such as burn-flavored Doritos and bacon-potato-flavored Pringles. Put on a DVD, nestle into the couch with your Snuggie and a bowl of Orville Redenbacher popcorn, and then youve got yourself a nice, relaxing evening, right?

Wrong. Youve got an evening thats slowly decreasing your breathing capacity, making you infertile, and possibly giving you cancer in any given organ from the ribs on down.

A quick history of Orville and his company: In 1919, a 12-year-old Orville Redenbacher started growing his own popping corn, starting his own business and eventually paying his way through college. During the Great Depression, he sold popcorn to keep himself afloat, a product that, according to Orvilles official website, made it much less depressing for those who were able to afford it, because nothing takes your mind off of how you lost your life savings because of irresponsible financial decisions better than having a popcorn kernel stuck in your teeth.

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In 1944, his company started selling mass-produced kernels for popping, as well as an oil meant to be mixed in with it. These products and brand image chugged along until 1983 when ConAgra Foods bought the brand in, again to quote the official Orville site, quite possibly the tastiest acquisition in American history. This reduced Orvilles role in the company to that of essentially a very well-paid brand spokesman, a sort of vegetarian version of Colonel Sanders.

Anyway, a funny thing happened in 1983. Microwave popcorn fever struck America. In the first full year of the products existence, it generated $53 million in revenue for the various companies that sold it. Redenbacher, long the most established popcorn brand, quickly jumped to the head of the pack. A 1987 New York Times article on the subject attributes the rise of this new treat to the health craze of the era, as well as the rise of microwave oven use in households. However, the article expressed skepticism as to the viability of the product, with one representative of the ever-grumbling oil-and-skillet popcorn industry quoted as saying, Microwave popcorn is a fad. It will last until people read the labels and realize what chemicals microwave manufacturers are putting into their popcorn.

Well, Im sorry, Debra A. Kumm, manager of West Brand Company, but people didnt look at those labels until the latter half of the last decade, when studies started cropping up stating that, in fact, the chemicals being put into microwave popcorn were hyperbolically dangerous.

First, theres perfluorooctanoic acid, a Teflon-like chemical that lines the bag in order to trap in steam, which then causes the popcorn to pop, which can cause infertility in popcorn eaters. Lab rats who were deluged with the chemical all contracted cancer, so I guess this means in some sort of emergency, you should not attempt to douse yourself in microwave popcorn, because that will not help and it will also give you cancer. Dont worry, though, because popcorn manufacturers have pledged to remove the chemical from popcorn bags by 2015, which gives plenty of time for that calamity in Children of Men (where the world turns infertile) to come to fruition.

Then, youve got diacetyl, a tasty compound responsible for the artificial butter flavoring in Redenbacher compounds. Researchers have noticed a suspiciously high rate of lung disease found in workers in popcorn factories. This condition, called bronchiolitis obliterans but affectionately referred to as popcorn lung, decreases lung capacity in its victims, though the ConAgra Foods and the Orville Reddenbacher brand swears by its products safety in the home, reassuringly issuing a statement claiming, When it comes to diacetyl, the focus of concern is workplace exposure. Regardless of the official company line, ConAgra pledged to de-diacetyl-ize their microwave popcorn bags in 2007, citing concerns for the safety of their workers. Still, Im not quite sure Id want to ingest something that, a couple steps prior on the production line, caused a guy to start wheezing.

So whats a popcorn enthusiast to do? Whatever you do, dear Lord, dont buy microwave popcorn. I dont care if it says its totally organic, vegan, natural, poured straight into the bag from the husk. Buy a nice bottle of popcorn kernels and some oil, boil it on the stovetop, and go to town. No popcorn lung required.