Take Two M&Ms and Call Me in the Morning
The Medicinal Power of Movie Snacks
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.