Breakfast cereals have lost their snap, crackle and pop

Corn Flakes were invented by a quack doctor from Michigan.

Whenever I’m about to do a radio broadcast or public speech, the technicians typically check the sound level by asking me to recount what I had for breakfast. This can take some time, which is doubtless the point of the question. Breakfast properly takes the form requested by Bertie Wooster who, returning home after a night in a prison cell, is gratified to learn from Jeeves that there are eggs on the premises: “I shall need about fifty, fried, with perhaps the same number of pounds of bacon.”

In any event, spare me the cereal. And, on the evidence of sales data published in The Grocer magazine, more people feel the same way. Almost every cereal brand, save Weetabix, has suffered a decline in sales in 2016. It isn’t that people are missing breakfast, but that they prefer to eat on the go with cereal bars or food from cafés. This may not be optimal for public health, but it shows discernment. Long may this revolution in consumer preferences continue.

Breakfast cereals are almost a Brechtian parody of the iniquity of capitalism. Big corporations sell food that is as devoid of taste as it is of nutritional value, while their marketing campaigns seek to persuade people that they actually like the stuff. This is probably true only of one segment of the cereal-eating population: children, who like large quantities of sugar. The most memorable cereal advertising is aimed at them, with friendly cartoon characters such as Tony the Tiger (“They’re Grrrrreat!”) and the remorselessly winsome gnomes Snap, Crackle and Pop.

Refined sugar is the staple and often overwhelming ingredient of breakfast cereals. It’s there to disguise the unpalatable truth that whatever the name or the design on the box, the unadulterated product is sure to taste somewhere on a continuum of dull to detestable. It’s always been this way. And let’s not forget that sugar is among the unhealthiest of items, and sugary cereals being marketed as the ultimate breakfast food is harmful at best. The health issues, starting with tooth decay and ending with obesity and diabetes, are plentiful and potentially life-threatening. Most people are probably not even aware of the amount of sugar they consume, and then find that visits to their family dentistry specialist are growing more and more frequent, because the toothaches need to be treated.

The inventor of Corn Flakes, a Michigan quack and Seventh Day Adventist called John Harvey Kellogg, was a great advocate of punitive dietary regimes and sexual abstinence. “Eat what the monkey eats – simple food and not too much of it,” he advised patients. His enterprising brother Will had the idea of adding sugar to render it cloying rather than self-mortifying.

Well, I’ve had enough. When it’s hard to distinguish between a foodstuff and the cardboard box containing it, the best course is to order something else. Thankfully, that’s what British breakfasters are doing at last.

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