Once upon a time there was farmers’ lung, caused by contact with the spores of mouldy hay and other crops. Today, in a signal shift that summarises just about everything that has changed about the way we feed ourselves, there is popcorn lung disease, which afflicts workers who mix, prepare and use the flavourings that go into ready-made popcorn. It seems to be especially linked to a compound called diacetyl that tastes buttery (and is present in large quantities in all those “buttery” California chardonays).

While I sympathise with the workers, their disease, and the million-dollar settlements some have won from the manufacturers of the flavour and the popcorn factories, are just one more of the costs society pays for moving from a system in which people popped corn at home, and maybe even melted some butter to pour over it, to one in which they buy packs of microwavable popcorn in one of several flavours, including “buttery”.

How long before a cinema worker, or simple popcorn addict, sues?

By the way, and wouldn’t you know it, a “national law firm” in the US offers butterflavoringlunginjury.com for your interest and edification.

2021-09-14: Quick update. A year later, major popcorn makers dropped the toxic chemical.

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