Take Two M&Ms and Call Me in the Morning

The Medicinal Power of Movie Snacks

Sara Benincasa
The Humanitarian Humorist
Issue 5, Winter 2022

Not everyone can find the humanity and the humor in any situation. Sara can. She’ll be with us in every issue, guiding us toward both. In this issue, the path starts with one word: “popcorn.”

Thanks in part to my vision and in part to some brain thing that has been explained to me in boring detail, motion sickness at the movies has been a persistent issue in my life. The lightest swaying of the camera can sicken me. It’s why I avoid any film set on the high seas and/or directed by the talented Paul Greengrass. It’s also why my moviegoing soda of choice has always been ginger ale. 

“Thinking about the smell of that movie

theater popcorn, I am reminded how wildly

unsafe food used to be. Before the Pure

Food and Drug Act of 1906, you could sell

pretty much anything sprinkled on anything.”

s.e. smith misses the movies, but not
the potential e. coli. Read their essay.

This problem has affected every aspect of my relationship to film. Years ago, I signed a deal for my first feature film script, an adaptation of my novel D.C. Trip.  When I saw the fully executed contract, I had a moment of extremely naïve, Hollywood newbie, cart-before-the-horse anxiety: if it actually got made, I would be expected to go see it in a theater. What if I had to puke? (Thankfully, as with most feature scripts, mine never made it to the big screen. Hooray!)

“There’s truly nothing like the movie

theater…That smell of popcorn that’ll

stay underneath your fingernails for days.

That taste of all the fountain drinks mixed

together into one brown sugar mess. That

all-consuming panic when you’re 15 minutes

in and your bladder is already full. Maybe

you shouldn’t have chugged both Coke Zeros

during the trailers.”

Mia Mercado’s alternate ad concept for AMC
theaters is too honest to get made.

Sometimes the severity of the nausea would kick up my anxiety disorder and I’d have to leave the theater in the throes of a terrible panic attack. I remember very little about Castaway, except that I trauma-bonded to Wilson the volleyball between sprints to the bathroom. 

But I have found a few things that ease my chronic movie sickness, and one of them is a good movie snack — not because of  any particular magic inherent in these treats, which are usually full of chemicals engineered along the New Jersey Turnpike, but because I’m more likely to feel the nausea of motion sickness when I have an empty stomach. Sometimes, if I catch it early enough, eating a little something helps avoid the dehydration and blood sugar drop that presage my increased sensitivity to light and sound. 

There’s also a powerfully soothing psychological component to movie theater concessions. The ritual of consuming the snacks and the familiarity of taste and texture dampened my fear. The refined sugar lit up my opioid receptors and hit the pleasure center in my brain. I might still end up feeling gross when the shaky onscreen action escalated, but at least I’d get my temporary candy hit.

“Some patrons were pretty brazen, though, bringing

in whole pizzas, foot long subs, or full pasta and

salad combos, none of which could be concealed
under clothing or in a handbag.”

Movie patrons like to push the limits!
Read “Making Concessions.”

If you’re wondering if I eventually learned to bring supplies to the theater — yes. As an adult, I usually keep almonds with me, plus peppermint essential oil and a few Advil. But as a kid, I didn’t know what was going on or how to deal with it. And you could get kicked out of our small, sticky-floored theater if you got caught bringing food in. The concession stand was my drug store. And here, from least preferable to most desirable, were my drugs of choice.

#10: Raisinets

“Most people are repelled by them, but there’s

almost no movie that isn’t better with Raisinets.

And if you go to the movies with me and think

I’ll share them with you, you’re dead wrong.”

Fightin’ words! Take a look at more movie
snack favorites from around the world.

In 1927, a darkness fell over the land as this horror was unleashed upon an innocent public. My father and I recently discussed the emotional and physical gut punch of grabbing a thing that looks like a Goober and realizing too late that one has eaten a Raisinet. Dad calls them “debased grapes.” But if you really need to eat something to get your energy up and nothing else is available, you can swallow them whole and almost not taste them. Reader, I have done it.

9. Red Vines

These are fine. They’re fine. Created in 1920 as Classic Raspberry Vines, they’re sort of like failed spaghetti. Whatever. If I have to, I have to.

8. Twizzlers

This fun “strawberry” licorice debuted in the 19th century and is better than Red Vines because of the smell and texture — like vaguely tasty plastic. Also, you can use a Twizzler as a straw to jazz up your ginger ale, like a Shirley Temple designed to keep you from horking.

7. Milk Duds

“If you ask people to tell you about

their memories of going to the movies,

they almost always talk about concessions.”

Read issue five’s feature story,
Making Concessions.”

My father and I live in perpetual fear of losing fillings to these chocolate-covered caramel pucks, yet still we take the risk. It’s worth it. He gets anxious too, and would likely agree that the thrill of dental danger may distract one from nausea, agoraphobia, or a bad second-act plot twist. 

6. Peanut M&Ms

Protein is good for you. Peanuts are a legume and that’s a kind of vegetable, maybe. Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer (and nuclear scientist) and he wants us to live in a peaceful, stable democracy. Eat Peanut M&Ms if you want America to be better. I would, if there weren’t a superior peanut-and-chocolate treat available.

5. Goobers

Find a tool for making your own ranked

grid of movie snacks in the bonus features.

They look like oversized rabbit turds, but they’re roasted peanuts covered in soft chocolate. I respect the hard candy shell of Peanut M&Ms, but I love Goobers’ gentle, comforting pliancy. They are the cozy sweatpants of cinema cuisine.

4. Mounds

Now we’re approaching true healing territory. Coconut is a fruit, but not a sad fruit like raisins. Chocolate is chocolate. These candy bars also smell wonderful. A Mounds bar is aromatherapy.

3. Almond Joy

My mom’s favorite, Almond Joy is a Mounds bar with almonds. It serves up protein and coconut and all the sugar you could want. It’s a complete meal and I bet I could survive on just Almond Joys through all those Pirates of the Caribbean movies I’ve never seen.

2. Popcorn

“The staccato pitter-patter of pops and the sight

of those aquarium-style machines conspire to trigger

a dopamine response that urges us to get in line as

we imagine the pleasurable crunch and Flavacol™-

enhanced taste, butterier and better than butter itself.”

From Marsha Gordon’s feature story,
“Making Concessions.” Read it!

If you get this without butter and combine it with my favorite movie soda, it’s like eating Saltines and ginger ale, kind of. It will help an upset stomach.

(If you’re feeling physically fine but want to be emotionally transported, get that butter! It’s a food-adjacent chemical treat.) 

1. Reese’s Pieces

This is the best movie theater snack ever. They incorporate peanut butter and thus are a nutritious delicacy. They smell really good. They are a pure sugary hit of glory, and they probably cure everything. Or make you get sicker, but if you inadvertently regurgitate them, you’ll feel better and then you can go buy more. I have done exactly this thing, like a warrior who won’t give up the fight to finish watching a goddamn Bond movie because her date might think she’s weird.

The best guests are the ones who bring good snacks.

Like Sara! She’s one of our regular columnists. Join our mailing list to get updates whenever a new issue — with a new Sara Benincasa magnum opus — comes out. All it takes is an email address:

I have been criticized and even mocked by a few men for my movie motion sickness, but all of these men were ultimately mediocre and a waste of my time and energy. You know what was never a waste? Spending half a month’s rent on movie snacks. Those overpriced boxes of garbage are like Xanax and Dramamine, but tastier. They smell better, too.

“As COVID continues to pummel the exhibition

industry and audiences turn to streaming,

the appeal of another digital screen — but

bigger! — has started to lose its sheen. But

for me it’s personal, like mourning for

the cinema I knew.”

Not everyone wants to stay home. Read
Corey Atad’s “The Projectionist.”

I haven’t missed going to the theater during these pandemic years, though I do love to visit a historic movie palace now and again to watch a film that doesn’t shake. (Old-timey cinema is best for this, I find. Once they invented lighter cameras, it all went to hell.) I’m sure I’ll join a local cinema club to support one of these gorgeous landmark establishments, even if I only go once in a while.

But I do like movies. I watch them at home. The 13-inch laptop viewing experience leaves a little something to be desired, so I’ve taken the unprecedented step of entering this century and purchasing a wall-mounted TV. I am going to buy a few boxes of Reese’s Pieces (not the bags, dammit, the movie concessions-style boxes). I’m going to get some kind of fancy popcorn. And you can bet your ass I’m going to drink as much ginger ale with a Twizzler straw as I damn well please.

Sara Benincasa is a comedian, actress, college and corporate speaker on mental health awareness, and the author of the books Real Artists Have Day Jobs, DC Trip, Great, and Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom. She hosts the podcast “Well, This Isn’t Normal,” which blends interviews with relaxation techniques, and wrote for the 13th season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. She’s also a columnist here at Pipe Wrench.

Portrait by Libby Greenfield.

read the previous story
Popcorn, and a Circumcision