The Most Important Snack in America

The Most Important Snack in America

This Fourth of July may be different than most. Municipal governments are scaling back—or outright cancelling—parades and fireworks displays to slow the spread of novel coronavirus. Many of those same state and local officials are encouraging residents not to host their own crowded cookouts and parties for the same reason. But the morale boost and sense of togetherness that Independence Day brings may be exactly what we all need right now. Fireworks displays can shift from professional productions at local parks or high school football fields to communal efforts on the streets of our neighborhoods. And no snack is more appropriate than popcorn.

Popcorn is an undeniably American snack—experts have uncovered evidence of it in present-day South America and southwestern North America that dates back thousands of years. But popcorn has deep ties to the United States of America, not just the American continents. In fact, it might have saved our nation. Before the Great Depression, popcorn wasn’t a common sight in cinemas or home kitchen. During the Depression, though, its popularity exploded because of its low cost—people struggling emotionally and financially could still afford to treat themselves, if only occasionally. Struggling farmers in the Midwest, among them William Redenbacher (father of Orville), could grow popcorn and dependably sell it for a profit. Alongside tomatoes and a handful of other choice crops, popcorn helped save one of the backbones of our economy—agriculture.

On any Fourth of July, the snack that saved our morale and our economy during one of the darkest times in our nation’s history is an appropriate addition to the festivities. But this Independence Day could be especially symbolic for popcorn in America. It’s lifted us out of the depths before. Maybe this year popcorn and backyard fireworks displays can offer a respite that we all desperately need.