On Saturday, the New York Postreported on a particularly alarming clampdown on patrons trying to smuggle outside food into the theater. Early last week, ticket-takers working the Cinépolis in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea began rummaging through customers’ bags, flashlights in tow, looking for any traces of food that wasn't sold at the theater's concession stands.
The details are grisly: “A guard busted one woman and banished her to a drab corner seating area to forbidden food before a matinee,” one anecdote reads. The theater’s professed justification for this forced searching was founded in their fear that these bags may have been concealing weapons. Still, affected patrons quoted in the story were furious at what they perceived as an unnecessarily dramatic form of public shaming, all for some harmless civil disobedience.
Is it ever okay to sneak food into a movie theater? A pressing, urgent question. Always timely. Exactly how to smuggle food into movie theaters is the stuff of Wikihow entries. There's a set of rules one should obey when partaking in this. Be sly with your clothing, most well-versed in movie theater food smuggling instruct, so that it obscures the presence of an alien foodstuff. Be stealthy around ushers. Contort your body accordingly.
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There’s also a certain, unspoken etiquette to how you should conduct yourself with once you successfully smuggle the food in question into a theater: Don’t chew too loudly. Don’t bring a five-course meal. Throw your trash out. Basic behavior.
To me, the origins of this small, radical gesture of rebellion are a way of sticking it to the man. The price of food in movie theaters tends to be unconscionably, irrationally expensive. Let’s take a look at the prices of Cinépolis foods. A large popcorn is $8.25. A large soda is $5.25. Candy is $4.25. There’s a reason for these exorbitant prices that has its roots in the Great Depression, when theaters, in desperate need of economic bounty, made concession stands a vital source of revenue for their businesses.
Is this historical precedent enough to justify these wildly high prices? And should these prices obstruct anyone who wants to experience the particular pleasures of eating food while eating foods they love? I come down firmly on the "no" side. Making concession stands more affordable is a problem that there doesn’t seem to be a ton of interest in solving. While we wait for that to happen, my suggestion is to smuggle away. Boys, put some macaroons in your murse; ladies, stick some Funyuns in your Fjallraven. If the rules don’t change, break them until they do.
Where do you come down on this debate—is it ever okay to sneak food into a movie theater? Let us know in the comments.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.