Monday, August 1, 2011

My Brain On Breakfast Cereal

So it's a holiday today here in Canada for some. The short of it is I get to enjoy a leisurely bowl of cereal.
But holiday or not, it is still a workday to those of us who's minds will just not shut off and I'm one of those afflicted I'm afraid. In fact, while having breakfast a rather contrived history behind breakfast cereal popped into my head. Please let me take this opportunity to share it with you.

Many of you might not know this but breakfast cereals are a conspiracy of the evil vegetarian movement dating back to the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Being that ham and eggs seemed to be the only thing on the menu those days, and corn on the cob and Waldorf salads were just too time consuming, they decided to concoct a ready-to-eat version of dried gruel, the traditional porridge-like mush of the dark ages.

Seems packaged cereals have a connection to sanitariums. Sanitariums (as opposed to "sanatoriums" – the medical facilities) were the ancestors of today's health spas and people would travel to them to partake in their fresh air and mineral waters. Patrons, once ensconced, were held innocent captives to these herbivore masochists and passive compliance and deprivation therapy appeared to be quite a normal practice.

The first packaged breakfast cereal was invented in 1863 by James Caleb Jackson, operator of the Jackson Sanitorium in Dansville, New York. The cereal never became popular, as the heavy bran nuggets were as hard as hockey pucks and required soaking overnight before they were tender enough to eat. Which made it, I would imagine, too closely resemble gruel – the very dish that it was meant to replace.

In 1877, John Harvey Kellogg, operator of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, invented a biscuit for his patients suffering from bowel problems (he was also big on enemas, I hear). His most famous contribution, however, was an accident. While plotting other tortures, he forgot a batch of boiled wheat and left it soaking overnight. A frugal sort, he thought he'd make pancakes and rolled it out. Getting it too thin, it dried rapidly, crumbled before his eyes and wheat flakes were born. His brother Will Keith Kellogg, a broom salesman by trade, stole the process and invented corn flakes. He left his brother in the dust and went on to found the Kellogg Company in 1906.

After WWII, superheroes "Snap, Crackle & Pop", Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit (among others) came to the rescue of young children of the world and mercifully refined the flour to remove fiber, (which at the time was considered to make digestion and absorption of nutrients difficult), and added tons of sugar to improve the flavor. By 1953, some of the better cereals had 56% sugar by weight. It was a time of enlightenment, (Captain Kangaroo, deep fried everything, Elvis, four-for-a-penny mojos and Little Lulu comic books) and one I am proud to be born into. 

Alas, the vegetarians gradually returned to seize control in the '80s and '90s. Sadly, fiber was once again introduced and sugar content was reduced dramatically in most offerings. Rumors are they are so enamored with fiber that they have teams of vegan monks with modified cheese graters sprinkling particles of two-by-fours into the mixture. Secret documents obtained through online whistle-blowers reveal a plot to return us to, yes, gruel by 2020.

So there you have it – the abridged and highly messed with history of breakfast cereal. Next week: the Cheerios Effect; or how Cheerios are attracted to each other in clumps while floating in milk. (A real theory of "fluid mechanics".)