Thanksgiving and Theaters and Pepe Le Pew, Oh My!


There’s no other way to explain the rewiring of our thoughts and beliefs simply because one toe crosses the threshold of a movie theater. Our understanding of the intense benefits of proper nutrition (clear skin, shiny hair, high energy, great sleep, etc.) is no match for our conditioned response to the cinema on the big screen. And this response, for many, will be challenged within weeks from reading this piece. 

“Thanksgiving is the five biggest days of the year as far as the box office is concerned,” according to a former president of worldwide theatrical advertising and publicity for Warner Brothers, Robert G. Freidman. His informed perspective, shared in The New York Times, points out that the days surrounding, and including, Thanksgiving are magical for movie theaters. It’s that time of year when Christmas shopping doesn’t monopolize people’s time, and television isn’t the most enticing. What do people do with their time off from school and work? According to Freidman, they go to the movies in droves.

Just thinking about the movie theater transports me to the moment the poster-covered door swings open, and the pulse of the theater makes itself known. The soda fizzes. The popcorn rattles the stainless steel kettle and spews over the brim. The cash register drawer tings and clanks as it’s opened and shut. Drinks slurp up straws. Chips crunch between teeth. Candy falls into hands. The sounds, sights, and smells are a symphony that summons us toward the concession stand as involuntarily as the French perfume of a love interest of Pepe Le Pew, a character from Warner Bros. Looney Tunes

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with indulging at the theater. For most of us, the theater is a once a month, at most, occurrence. Assuming the rest of the month has been full of nutritious choices, allowing yourself to be hypnotized by the sugar gods once a month, within reason, isn’t going to wreak irreversible havoc on your body. But this connection between movie theaters and the urge to say “extra butter” or “Cherry Coca-Cola ICEE, please”, even though just a few moments before stepping into the theater we weren’t hungry or thirsty, does visualize one important realization: Certain experiences condition us to want certain foods.

Perhaps it’s enchiladas at a Quinceanera, Grandma’s homemade baklava at Christmas, Uncle Bob’s homemade potato salad at the reunion, or Aunt Eda’s butter tarts at Thanksgiving. Whether it’s a once in a lifetime occasion or a monthly recurrence, there are moments that display our conditioned response to food and circumstances so clearly that we can’t overlook them, even if we tried.

We can arrive at the movie theater immediately after a three-course dinner and yet, for many, the movie theater experience must include a bucket of popcorn so buttery that our hands glisten under the projector light. Why is this?

Harvard University Press published an article entitled Food and Memory. The article claims food can trigger deep memories and feelings that can be decades old. That’s powerful. Susan Whitbourne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, points out that “food memories are more sensory than other memories in that they involve all five senses.” Sight. Smell. Hearing. Touch. Taste. All five senses come into play with food memory. 

So the next time you find yourself in an out-of-body experience, looking down at yourself as you make unhealthy decisions that you know threaten to undo all the hard work and careful decision making you’ve practiced all week, ask yourself if it’s really the food or drink you want or if there is a much deeper memory guiding your purchase. Once we are aware of what events and situations trigger food memories, we stand a chance of combating our Pepe Le Pew tendency to succumb to those triggers. Once we accept that certain places, people, and events condition us to crave certain foods, we stand a chance of saying yes to our health and no to extra butter.

Author: Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach