Microwave popcorn is a survival food at work, something easy to store in a drawer and readily available when endless meetings make it nearly impossible to grab lunch. Popcorn is fast, filling, tasty and more importantly to those following a diet plan, relatively low in calories for a reduced fat mini-bag. The three times a week popcorn habit was met with an occasional comment on the need to make time for a meal, but more often then not went completely unnoticed. That is, until the announcement that a consumer contracted a rare but serious disease that is referred to as Popcorn Workers Lung.
Bronchiolitis obliterans is a condition in which the bronchioles become plugged and individuals affected have severely reduced lung capacity. There is no cure beyond a lung transplant. Around 5 years ago, the Centers for Disease Control announced that a high number of individuals working in the popcorn manufacturing industry were inflicted with the disease, thus the name Popcorn Workers Lung. The recent discovery of a consumer contracting this debilitating disease hit the news last week and my popcorn habit is now a hot topic of conversation in the office.
Complete strangers are popping in my cube to ask if I heard the news, asking if I am worried for my health, or joking that I now need to completely change my diet. For the record, I am not worried for my health nor am I going to change my 2 to 3 time a week trip to the microwave with my mini-bag of smartpop. Out of all the bad habits I could have (and do have), eating a high fiber, low fat snack that might cause lung disease when consumed in excess is not really a big worry. Drinking diet soda, eating red meat and French fries, rollerblading without a helmet, speeding on the highway, forgetting to do breast self exams, carrying an excess thirty pounds and neglecting to put little sticky things in my shower to prevent slipping are probably a bigger cause of concern for my health and well-being then my love of Orville Redenbacher.
The overblown concern over microwave popcorn demonstrates a much bigger issue on the role of the press in creating a culture of fear where people lose perspective and become overly concerned about trivial things. We are constantly bombarded by stories and images of random stuff that could threaten our health, reported in such a way where the threat seems bigger then it actually is. People worry about these stories that hit the news when there are so many other threats all around them; they will throw out all their popcorn to save their family yet forget to buckle their seatbelt on the way to work.
Today marked a comical moment where such a misplacement of concern and energy occurred. Starved, I faced the option of eating a bag of popcorn or a high fat donut; I chose the popcorn. A funny thing happened on my way to the microwave as I received comments that the microwave popcorn would kill me. These comments came from one severely obese man and two women returning from their cigarette break who obviously have bigger health concerns to worry about.