I own six shares of stock in General Mills. When I received them for my Bar Mitzvah, they were three shares, each worth $75. (They have since “split,” like little financial amoebas, and today they are still hovering around $37.50.) I received them from my Aunt Lisa. She wanted to buy me stock in something I cared about, so she called my mother and they had a brainstorm. It is difficult for me to imagine exactly how the conversation might have proceeded, but somehow they decided that what I cared about was cereal.

        And they were right.  I cared deeply about cereal -- the tastes and the textures, the colorful cartoon characters reciting their mantras and the carefully doctored glamor shots of This Complete Breakfast.  Thirteen years later, though lactose intolerance has thrown a wrench into my morning ritual, my feelings are as strong as ever.  But I find that the cereal I love is not today’s cereal; it is cereal as it was in the late 90’s, when I was still watching children’s television.  Now that I have been invested in cereal for more than half my life, I am ready to share my own particular brand of 90’s nostalgia, in the form of cereal reviews.

Cereal        

Mascot

Tagline

Cereal Review

Mascot/Tagline Review

Life

Mikey

“He likes it!  Hey, Mikey!”

When it comes to oats, the Quaker man knows what he’s doing.  These delightfully textured oat squares are as integral to my cereal bowl today as they were twenty years ago.  The perfect bowl of cereal has three layers: flakes, which will get mushy fastest and must be eaten first, go on top; a sugary reward goes at the bottom; and, like life itself, Life is what happens in between.  It stays crunchy even once it has absorbed some milk, and it is sweet without overpowering its grainy flavor.  And the joy of finding two squares joined along one edge like little siamese twins: priceless.

Hey Mikey... what?  Are we just trying to attract his attention away from his cereal?  I always wondered whether “Hey, Mikey!  He likes it!” wouldn’t make more sense.  ...but is Mikey even a “he”?  The picture on the box changes race and gender every few months, and yet they keep calling it “Mikey.”  The only thing that does not change about Mikey is his age: he has been four years old since 1972.  Shapechanging wizard?  Body-hopping spirit?  Or is his face being surgically changed over and over to protect his identity?  If so, why does he keep putting himself on cereal boxes?

Trix

The Silly Rabbit

“Silly rabbit!  Trix are for kids!”

I actually never ate Trix as a child.  I imagine my parents assumed that anything as iridescent as Trix was unfit for human consumption.  I envied children who ate Trix.  They were the ones who would bring girls over to their houses to show them their long, looping HotWheels tracks.  I think they went to a different school.

The children who deny the rabbit Trix cereal are heir to an age-old tradition of discrimination and oppression.  Silly negro, voting is for whites!  Silly woman, jobs are for men!  These children are bullies and animal abusers, completely unfit to serve as role models on children’s television.  I can only hope that someday, when they are old enough to go on dates, an evening will come to an abrupt end with the line, “Silly boy!  Casual sex is for rabbits!”

Lucky Charms

Lucky the Leprechaun

“Hearts, stars and horseshoes!  Clovers and blue moons!  Pots of gold and rainbows!  And me red balloons!  Catch me Lucky Charms!  They’re magically delicious!”

The “marshmallows” are shameless lumps of unadulterated sugar.  Dry, they are the consistency of chalk; but put them in milk, and they are magically transformed into tiny, slippery wads, reminiscent of pieces of soap soaking in bathwater.  Meanwhile, the milk leeches off their colors and impersonates an oil slick.  The other cereal bits are unrecognizable and bland, easy to ignore completely until you have guiltily picked every marshmallow out of the box and they are all that is left, at which point they will grow stale on the shelf until they are relegated to the dog bowl.

The real magic of Lucky Charms is how a tiny Irishman managed to burn a complete marshmallow inventory into the eardrums of a generation.  The tagline is long enough to fill half the commercial slot on its own, but when we are alone in our rooms we suddenly find ourselves incanting it, transported back to that magical age when the introduction of a new marshmallow was about as earth-shattering as the arrival of our first sibling.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch (CTC)        

Chef Wendell

“Can he/she see what makes Cinnamon Toast Crunch so popular?”

(stupid adult guesses)

“WRONG!  It’s the cinnamon sugar swirls in every bite!”

“Cinnamon Toast Crunch: the taste you can see!”

Many kid cereals contain absurd amounts of sugar; CTC is the one cereal that makes no attempt to hide it.  The little square wafers feel sandy to the touch because each one is somehow carrying its own protective coating of loose sugar.  Eating it dry is like a picnic on a windy beach.  In milk, the sugar coating disperses quickly, revealing a second layer of sugar, this one watertight enough to maintain crunchiness almost indefinitely.  Despite my cynicism, this is almost the perfect bottom-layer cereal, and probably the reason that they got me stock in General Mills instead of Kelloggs or Quaker.  Also deserving of mention is the spinoff French Toast Crunch, which was originally shaped like tiny pieces of toast coated in a glistening syrup-flavored sugar shell and wins my prize for “most lickable cereal.”

If you can see the taste of a cereal, you are experiencing synesthesia and should probably take a careful look at the ingredient list.  Maybe THAT’S what makes Cinnamon Toast Crunch so popular.

Frosted Flakes

Tony the Tiger

“They’re Gr-r-reat!”

A surprisingly decent top-layer cereal.  The nearly impermeable sugar coating keeps them crispy in milk long after other flakes poop out. And once the flakes are gone, no other cereal leaves milk more delicious. It's probably just my imagination, but Frosty-milk actually seems COLDER than other leftover milk. That would certainly explain the name. If I'm right, there must be some interesting chemistry happening in there. But when it comes to ingredients, I enforce a fairly strict policy of don't-ask don't-tell, so I'll leave that investigation up to the FDA.

Some cereals are born into gr-r-reatness, and some, like Frosties, have gr-r-reatness thrust upon them.  It’s small wonder that Frosties stay crispy in milk -- I would stay crispy too if I had a broad-chested jock-tiger prancing around the REAL WORLD (unlike other cartoon mascots of the era) and yelling my praises at anyone in athletic attire.  If it weren’t for his soft features and quaint bandana, Tony would have scared me away from sports altogether. Come to think of it, it was kids like Tony who DID scare me away from sports altogether.

Froot Loops

Toucan Sam

“Follow your nose!”

I don’t know what “froot” is, but it certainly isn’t fruit.  Nonetheless, FL is one of the better colorful cereals on the market.  Froot dissolves delightfully in the mouth like a sugar cube.  The aesthetic experience is equally pleasing: rings fit neatly two to a spoon, and the color doesn’t pollute the milk.  Just don’t leave a few sitting in a bowl of milk after breakfast -- by the afternoon they become bloated pastel monstrosities that look like they might finish up the milk and move on to the box of cheerios.

When these commercials were released, ornithologists still believed that birds had almost no sense of smell.  However, in 2008, German researchers found genetic and behavioral evidence that some birds rely heavily on smell to navigate and forage for food.  Toucan Sam has the last laugh!

Apple Jacks

A small, multiracial posse of smartly dressed preteens

“They don’t taste like apple!”

“THAT’S not why they taste so good!”

“Then why?”

“...they just do!”

“We eat what we like!”

Elitist Froot Loops.  I am at an impasse: if I complain that they do not taste like apple, I am playing right into their hands.

This seemingly vapid exchange actually highlights several serious philosophical issues.  First, can qualia such as flavor ever be successfully described, or are they essentially incommunicable?  Second, does the word “good” refer to an actual property, or is it, as the emotivists claim, simply a surrogate for an expression of unjustifiable preference?

Corn Pops

Teenager

“Gotta have my Pops!”

For all I know, fresh Corn Pops are just as satisfying as they look at the end of a commercial.  But every time I have opened a bag of Corn Pops, they have become stale before I put them in my mouth.  They stubbornly refuse to crunch, and instead give way grudgingly under the tooth like packing peanuts.  And yet I still believe that fresh Corn Pops are possible.  Perhaps a successful ad campaign has clouded my reason, but I choose to blame the humidity.  Someday I will take a spiritual journey into a desert with a box of Corn Pops and test my faith in a suitably dry environment -- until then, I cannot in good conscience condemn them, except to say that they are clearly not intended for people who live on the outside of cereal bags.

According to the internet, one in four American lives are touched by addiction.  At the end of a Corn Pops commercial, the generic teenager gets his/her Pop fix, and we fade to black... but the story goes on.  Who will tell the tale of the troubled youth cutting class to take hits of Pop from behind the high school, the dropouts and deadbeats in their crumbling apartments living from bowl to bowl, the cycles of dependency and degradation fueled by exploitative Cornographers?  CP is a gateway cereal -- every day, more Popheads slide down the slippery slope towards Grape Nuts and Puffins, and before they know it they are having their stomachs pumped for a fiber OD.  Until their story is told, all our breakfasts are incomplete.