Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Going With The Grain

I am standing in a palette of primary colors, rectangles of crayons, a garden of barcodes. Thirty yards of yellows, oranges and greens screaming at me in garish tones. Pick me up. Buy me! The cereal section grows like weedy dandelions or wild orchids with their seductive tongues hanging out.

It wasn’t always like this. There were Corn Flakes, All-Bran and Shredded Wheat, simple and stately in their boxy mansions. There was Rice Krispies, snap, crackle and popping noiselessly on the shelf. There was Wheaties, Breakfast of Champions, my first newspaper suggesting who I would be if I ever grew up. And Grape Nuts emblemtic in that it is derived from neither grapes nor nuts; a deceit which runs through Kellogg, Post and General Mills, with doubtful claims on all their gaudy boxes. These were the first, going back ninety years or more. And they’ve been sitting on the shelf under the watchful eye of a Ben Franklin look-alike in his Quaker hat on the oatmeal cylinder.

It took pasteurized milk and wax paper to make them a morning habit. The Kellogg brothers showed how far 6th grade drop-outs could go. Battle Creek, Michigan, became their center of operation and many a box top was sent to that address for decoder pins, badges and buttons for beanie hats.

The grocer reached for one or the other with his elongated pincer. This was before self service markets. A counter separated the server and the served. He tallied the items with his #3 pencil, kept behind his ear, onto the paper bag. You shopped 4 or 5 times a week. Ice boxes were small and food spoiled….but not cereal.

Cheerios was born in the early ‘40s, the first oat cereal and hopelessly dull which is why it required a cheery name. After the war, mills boomed with the boomers and colonized the aisle. Can it be my daughters were raised on Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops? Cavities got bigger. Dentists got rich. Blood sugar zoomed north. Is it any wonder about ten percent of Americans have type-2 diabetes? Then wheat germ (remember that?), bran and fiber became by-words for lean and longevity. Special K, Smart Start. Fiber-Smart, and granola but they have even more carbohydrates. Muesli is a mix of rolled oats or cornflakes with fruit, nuts and seeds, tasteless enough to make it seem healthy but loaded with carbohydrates.

I love my cereal. I could eat it all day and nothing else, providing I drizzle it with blueberries. Got to kill those free radicals. As we all know the only good radical is an oxidized one.

A walk in the cereal section is a sensory experience; less a Mozart concerto than an atonal cacophony, opera-loud, Dixieland-close. Visually, it is a canvas splashed by intoxicated Fauvists. And it seems never to end, like half a football field, five first-downs. I have wasted quality time looking for Raisin Bran Crunch, Honey Bunches of Oats or Golden Grahams. Curious how many brands are out there, I went to a website which lists them all. I counted 140 before finishing the letter C. It’s America, it’s excess and according to William Blake, The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom…for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.

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