On the John
Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on October 31, 2003
I’m giving up.
While shopping for groceries for the first time this school year, I found myself in a familiar, yet troubling, place: the cereal aisle. Every attempt I’ve made to be a responsible adult in any facet of my life has manifested itself in the decisions I make in this aisle.
As a younger kid food shopping with my parents, this was the only aisle where there was ever any real disagreement. Fruits and vegetables are healthy, and cookies and candy are not, and my parents were cool about always leaving the supermarket with some foods from both groups. But cereal was always different.
Both child and parent know that cereal is going to be purchased; breakfast is nearly impossible without it. And so there is always mystery when entering the cereal aisle, because unlike healthy-untasty foods and tasty-unhealthy foods, cereal has the potential to be either healthy or unhealthy, tasty or untasty. Being that my parents were much older than I was at the time, they ate cereals with flakes and bran and raisins and oats, the cereal-equivalent to the neighbor who hands out apples on Halloween. When sleeping over at my grandparents’ house, my brother and I were introduced to the more favorable cereals, ones that consisted of moons and clovers and puffs of cocoa and fruit-like substances. So the battle in the cereal aisle usually yielded Honey Nut Cheerios, which we all agreed was tasty and healthy enough to please everyone.
So there I was, back in the most challenging aisle of all, but this time around there was no one to stop me. I could buy all of the sugar cereal I wanted. And best of all, I could do it with my parents’ money, and they would never have to know. But I overcame that urge, and acting as a responsible adult, I didn’t buy Lucky Charms, Trix or even Honey Nut Cheerios. I bought Raisin Bran, and left the store feeling quite proud of myself.
Unfortunately, that feeling hasn’t lasted. Raisin Bran is good and all, but it turns breakfast into such a matter-of-fact, business-like meal. I’ve come up with a compromise for myself, by buying both Lucky Charms and Honey Nut Cheerios and alternating bowls.
In all of this cereal eating, I always come back to the same question: do people shape their cereals, or do cereals shape the people? Sure, adults are concerned with health while kids are concerned with taste, and thus they choose cereals that mesh with those concerns. But I think there’s more to it. Raisin Bran — the adult cereal — is grounded in the unexciting, mundane bran flake, which provides nourishment and stability. To spice things up, the flake is teamed with the lightly sugared raisin, which seems like quite a treat when compared to the flake, but is still just a fruit. Likewise, parents of growing children are always busy, taking care of every detail of their children’s lives. They must find pleasure in the little things, like afternoon naps and the news.
On the other hand, Lucky Charms is grounded in the marshmallow, which is never boring and comes in many shapes and colors. Like a young child’s life, cereal can’t be all fun and games, and so balancing out the marshmallow are the hard, less-fun cereal pieces. These pieces of cereal are often discarded once we have searched through the milk and found every last marshmallow, and they are looked upon as “annoying” and “useless.” Then one day, when we’ve grown older, we’ll realize that compared to the bran flake of adulthood, we really had it great.
Copyright 2003, jm silverstein