Have you ever stopped to watch — really watch — cereal commercials on television? My favorites are those aimed at children. The punchline is always “part of this complete breakfast,” which is accompanied by a picture of a breakfast setting that would be no less complete if the cereal disappeared entirely. The cut up fruit and the eggs and bacon and toast and glass of milk do not really need little orbs of puffed sugar with a crunchy sugar coating to fulfill their nutritional aspirations.
This tiny coda to the drama-in-miniature about why you’ll be much cooler if you eat this particular cereal is no doubt put there at the insistence of the government, or lawyers, or government lawyers. It is not something we saw a couple decades ago, before pretending to be nutritious was important.
I like breakfast cereal, but my tastes run toward the industrial stuff: Wheat Chex (though they were much better when they were produced by the Ralston Purina Company of Checkerboard Square and could have been marketed as “Purina Kid Chow”). Best of all, Grape Nuts, even though the name of that product has always puzzled me, in that the best I can tell it has nothing to do with either grapes or nuts. These are best eaten by themselves, like crunchy little rocks. If your jaw muscles are not aching after you’ve eaten Grape Nuts, you haven’t done it right.
There are puffed wheat and puffed rice, which are a large form of the tiny little balls that, glued together, make up styrofoam. You can eat a whole box or bag of these with no actual harm to yourself because they’re about as substantial than cotton candy.
All this is brought to mind by the confluence of two events (three, if you count the longterm after effects of a misspent youth). In the space of about 90 seconds I encountered cereal disguised as packaging material and a little silver-wrapped package of Kellogg’s Marshmallow Krispie Treats which, despite their extortionate price I purchased and devoured.
The latter alarmed me. We are all familiar with the recipe, on every box of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. It is a recipe indulged in primarily by grandmothers, who are the only persons on the planet capable of avoiding the sticky mess that results when families try to make Marshmallow Krispie Treats as a group. Those smiling, happy families you see on television making them are obviously drugged. The only people who can produce Krispie Treats in a businesslike fashion are grandmothers.
Yet the Kellogg company of Battle Creek, Mich., now sells packages of Krispie Treats. Somewhere, they have a factory full of grandmothers, cranking these things out, probably for slave wages. An investigation is in order.
Marshmallow Krispie Treats are made of marshmallows, butter, and Rice Krispies. If thast does not qualify them to be part of this complete breakfast, I can’t imagine what would.
Meanwhile, I received a package more in keeping with my own personal notions of a proper breakfast cereal. No, this has nothing to do with the coffee mug someone sent me. Instead, I’m talking about the padding which (unsuccessfully, it turns out) protected the mug during its bumpy ride to my home. Where once the crockery would have been shielded by styrofoam peanuts, light, airy, gloriously vulnerable to static electricity, it was now packaged in a corn product. Really.
My first encounter with this stuff (if you haven’t seen it, it’s like Cheeze Curls only brownish gray and not as salty, though it may contain about as much real cheese) came when I lost the spigot cover for the pressure washer and thought I’d temporarily plug it with what I thought was a gray styrofoam peanut, only it melted when it came into contact with water. After doing research, I learned that it was essentially puffed cornstarch.
One supposes, then, that with some slight modification it could be made edible. Who knows, maybe it already is.
We live in an era of reuse and recycling. We try to waste as little as possible. One suspects that this philosophy figures in to the replacement of nice, indestructible styrofoam peanuts by these puffed corn extrusions that melt when they get wet. But the makers have gone only part way. A little salt and flavoring and instead of throwing them away you could just gobble them right on down.
They have come so close, so very close. Just a little bit more work and the gulf between breakfast cereal and packing peanuts would disappear entirely. We’re already making the phony styrofoam out of food: why not take that next bold step? After all, the cereal commercials have shown us that lack of nutritional value is no barrier.
It’s worth thinking about. And I’m going to do that right after I take a little nap.
The Krispie Treats have worn off and I’m sleepy and cranky now.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.