People who like to put labels on generations tell me that I’m a “Millennial,” which means, among other things, that I’m terrible. Most media outlets, which, in these lean times, have gotten really good at staying in the black by telling Baby Boomers exactly what they want to hear, will happily tell you about how I’m narcissistic and entitled and probably something about participation trophies. The Washington Post, however, has the real dirt on my generation, and it’s every bit as awful as you’re imagining. Are you ready? Maybe you should sit down for this.
Millennials don’t eat cold breakfast cereal.
According to the poll they quote, we avoid it because we’re too lazy to clean up after eating it, but if that were true, we wouldn’t eat anything. The more likely explanation is that (1) cereal is expensive, mainly because it comes in bizarrely elaborate boxes, (2) it has no real nutritional value, and (3) it’s not even very filling. In other words, it’s a poor substitute for just learning how to slice apples and scramble eggs.We devote huge amounts of time and energy guilting each other over what we eat.
Of course, the better question we should be asking here is why anyone is getting worked up over what strangers are eating for breakfast. And as far as I can tell, it’s mainly because an entire generation or two grew up being told that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and that the right and proper food to eat for breakfast was soggy chunks of toasted grain swimming around in ice-cold cow secretions. As it turns out, though, both of those ideas are extremely recent ones, and—just like those tiny communion cups and the idea that Easter is secretly a pagan festival—they were invented out of whole cloth in the 19th century by fundamentalist Christians.
I‘m talking, specifically, about the Kellogg brothers.
Before the name “Kellogg’s” was synonymous with breakfast foods tenuously connected to the Star Wars franchise, it was synonymous with a couple of devout Seventh-Day Adventist brothers who, in the late 19th century, ran a totally-legit-and-not-at-all-questionable sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. The SDA Church already advocated for a strict vegetarian diet, but John Harvey Kellogg, the older of the two, took it a few steps further and argued for total abstinence from all sweet and spicy foods as well, due to his belief that they would “enflame sexual passions.” If his patients could restrict themselves to bland whole grains, he told them, they would be able to resist all sexual temptations, up to and including the temptation to have sex with their own spouses. Other treatments the Kelloggs advocated included yogurt enemas, which I’m absolutely not making up, but kind of wish I were (I guess?).
Most of their efforts, however, were devoted to finding new ways to cram bland grains into people’s various orifices—highly dubious “health food” was a burgeoning industry, and they were determined to ride that gravyless train all the way to the bank. One of their early ideas was to bake giant chunks of whole wheat so rock-hard that you had to soak them in milk overnight to avoid breaking your teeth, which they called “Granula.” This proved to be a problem, though—not the tooth-breaking thing (obviously), but the name, which had already been trademarked by a different crazy fundamentalist running a different highly dubious sanitarium. To avoid a lawsuit, they changed one letter and called it “Granola.”
They wouldn’t hit on their million-dollar idea, though, until one day when they were cooking a batch of the stuff and got interrupted by pressing sanitarium business. (I don’t know what the interruption was, but based on my intimate knowledge of sanitariums, I assume it involved a wisecracking Jack Nicholson and a very stoic Native American.) When they returned to their wheat, it had been cooking so long that it had gone completely stale, but since it was health food, they figured no one would notice. They attempted to shape it into a usable dough by forcing it through rollers, but instead of forming sheets, it broke up into bite-sized “flakes.”
In other words, they had just invented Wheaties, but because the sports celebrity endorsement hadn’t been invented yet, they continued experimenting with the stuff until it was vaguely palatable. They finally landed on a corn-based flake recipe that they gave the name “Corn Flakes,” because they were good at naming stuff, and when their patients praised the new cereal as “not something that breaks my teeth or puts me particularly in the mood for sex,” it became clear that the real money would be in the newly formed Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company (motto: “We are a company based in Battle Creek that makes toasted flakes of corn”).
Right off the bat, though, the Kellogg brothers hit a snag: John Harvey was ready to just start selling the stuff, but his younger and slightly-less-insane brother Will Keith pointed out that, “Uh, no, John, we can’t sell this stuff because it tastes terrible,” and recommended adding sugar to it. John saw this as borderline sacrilege (almost as bad as chaste marital sex), and left the business a huff, thus allowing Will to rechristen it the W. K. Kellogg Company and add as much of the addictive white stuff to his products as he wanted.
Which, he did.
And so, the brand you know as Kellogg’s spent the next century or so expanding its product line to include not just (alleged) health foods, but also products like Smorz (it’s s’mores… for breakfast!) and Mini Swirlz (it’s cinnamon rolls… for breakfast!) and Sugar Smacks (it’s sugar, and possibly smack… for breakfast!), along with products like Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes, which they marketed with cartoon-character mascots and free toys, just in case the sugar wasn’t addictive enough. And two entire generations grew up watching endless TV commercials about how breakfast was the most important meal of the day and that cereal could be a “complete breakfast” if you just added a complete breakfast to it, and that’s why they’re all so horrified that my generation isn’t eating cereal.
And, I guess it all sort of makes sense. These days, we’ve gotten over the Kelloggs’ sexual hangups (and then some), but we still devote huge amounts of time and energy to guilting each other over what we eat (we still also think granola is healthy, which should tell you how little progress we’ve made). Jesus, though, had some choice words for people who moralized over food: in Matthew 15:11, he tells his disciples, “it is not what goes into the mouth [or, presumably, in the case of yogurt enemas, the butt] that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” And in a culture that pats you on the back more for eating organic than for serving at the local soup kitchen, we would all do well to keep that in mind. The bodies we’re feeding will eventually rot in the ground; it’s our deeds that we will be judged by on the last day.
If there’s anything scarier than a yogurt enema, it’s probably that.