Does microwave give you lung disease? A popular New York Times story (still holding at strong at the #6 position at post time) suggests that it can, if you work in a microwave popcorn factory, or if you eat two bags of microwave popcorn every single day for a decade, while inhaling the fragrance of the newly-opened bag.
My good friend Louise categorically stated that she was "never eating that stuff again", but after crunching the numbers, I feel that the risk is minimal.
According to the story, Wayne Watson dropped 50 pounds in six months, after his diagnosis, by cutting out microwave popcorn. (Other news accounts have the number at a more conservative 35 pounds) One pound is roughly 3500 calories, so we're looking at 175,000 total calories in six months. Per day, that's about a thousand popcorn calories a day he dropped. Act II butter-flavor microwave popcorn clocks in at 480 calories per bag, so our hero was averaging just over two full bags of microwave popcorn every day.
And if anyone was going to develop popcorn worker's lung, as the disease is called, it would be this guy. When the doctor asked about his snack habits, Watson declared, "I am Mr. Popcorn. I love popcorn." I think he earned the title. If you eat one food so much that simply removing that one food from your diet leads to a fifty-pound weight loss, you can certainly call yourself, "Mr (That Food)".
I wonder if his family was silently horrified by Mr. Popcorn. Watching him ritualistically preparing for his twice-nightly Orville Redenbacher binge, slipping on the mesh "Mr. Popcorn" baseball cap after changing into a t-shirt that reads, "If This Corn's Poppin', Don't Bother Knockin'!" I imagine Mr. Popcorn standing in front of the microwave, impatiently hopping from foot to foot as he monitors the rate of popping. Every Christmas, a new popcorn-themed gift, from salt shakers, to ceramic "Mr. Popcorn" bowls, to special potholders shaped like ears of corn, to exotic varieties of microwave popcorn like the legendary "pour-over butter" (note: 510 calories/bag, 66% of the daily recommended allowance of fat). Each family member struggling with guilt over enabling his addiction, but ultimately won over by seeing Mr. Popcorn's face light up as he inhaled the intoxicating, poisonous buttered popcorn odor.
The low periods could have been quite dark. The time Mr. Popcorn refused to go on a camping trip in order to stay with the microwave. Shouting matches at movie theater concession stands. The Christmas when he received a large tub of different flavored popcorn, and stormed from the room in protest, slamming the door behind him, the awkward silence only broken minutes later by the familiar hum of the microwave and the faint sounds of popping.
Mr. Popcorn took it further in another article, declaring, "I am microwave popcorn." You are what you eat. Considering he consumed 1000 calories of popcorn every day for a decade, that is literally true. Louise suggests that nearly all of his cells have microwave popcorn molecules in them at this point.
Ultimately, the guy made Louise and I both feel sad: "His one joy in life," said Louise, "was sticking his face into a bag of freshly popped microwave popcorn and inhaling deeply." Yes, he's living longer, but what is he living for? Golf? Fresh fruit? In the words of Michael Bolton, how is he supposed to carry on, when all that he's been living for is gone?