Why do children love breakfast cereal?

* As part of unpacking questions on this blog, I’m going to be applying Ken Wilbur’s four quadrant or integral model. In short, I’ll be looking at each question from four separate angles: the objective, the subjective, the isolated and the collective. I abbreviate this as OSIC, which is shocking close to the Inuit word – oosik – for the penis bone of a walrus – incidentally used as a lethal weapon. Draw your own conclusions; mnemonic hooks are helpful.

Back to breakfast cereal.

The humble origins of today’s breakfast cereal come from porridge. Soaking and cooking grains makes them much easier to digest, and requires less mechanical transformation than bread. Mr. Kellogg reportedly took a corn mush and ran it through some rollers and let it dry, the result was cornflakes. These could be reconstituted with a bit of milk.

Growing up, I was stunned to discover that “cereal” was the term applied to the grasses from which Cheerios and such were derived and the not the other way round.The word cereal comes from the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres.

In my mind, cereal came from a box, not a plant, much less grass. The idiomatic use of “cereal” is still strange to me.

I adored cereal as a kid. I remember topping my Honey Nut Cheerios with extra honey and anxiously peering into a friend’s kitchen cupboard after a sleep-over, hoping for Cinnamon Toast Crunch (CTC) or something equally magical and sugary.

Therein lies the rub, porridge is a categorical letdown, whereas most breakfast cereal might as well be dessert!

My family ate lots of home-made granola, which was scrumptious in its own right. It did not provide the fascination that comes from eating a bowl of CTC. Frankly, breakfast cereal seems to have been conceived for children to consume: it enters the bowl in lovely bite-sized pieces that have been transformed into tiny pieces of toast, or cookies, or perfect puffed spheres. I remember wondering what Corn Puffs and Rice Krispies were made from…

They appeared nothing like the raw materials indicated by the name.

Just the other morning, I was pouring Honey Nut Cheerios into my daughter’s bowl and she remarked how easily they came out of the box. Most four-year-olds are ham-fisted when it comes to eating and so a meal that doesn’t need to be cut or wrestled onto a d$#@ spoon is a delight to the young.

Step aside Willy Wonka, you can gaggle on about everlasting gobstoppers, what I want to see is how they managed to color and flavor individual Fruit Loops!

There is also the matter of marketing. On Saturday morning you have a Captain telling that he’s put his Crunch in a box, and what’s more this time it tastes like peanut butter! I must partake in this maritime miracle.

Bill Waterson’s Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs (Calvin & Hobbes) strike me as a delightful excoriation of the industry behind breakfast cereal. The phrase “part of this complete breakfast,” is a subtle concession that this food is primarily garnish, not substance.

Nevertheless, breakfast cereal become a touchstone of youth, either because you ate too much and loved it, or you pined away for something more interesting than oatmeal and fried eggs.

Few things garner such consistently fond memories. Breakfast cereal becomes a shared identity.


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