Sunday, June 17, 2012

Life Cereal

I’m a pretty simple guy.

Sure, there are a few things that might leave me a tad piffed every now and then (when people claim to like grape jelly better than strawberry, or that guy from Gossip Girl who isn’t Chase Crawford or Penn Badgely), but these occurrences are generally pretty reserved and relatively infrequent.

And while my self-assigned minimalism can at times be mistaken for apathy, listlessness and wide-ranging indifference, simplicity is the description I prefer. I like to think it’s not that I don’t care, but that I’m just naturally contented, an easy man to please. My recent voluntary move to Cleveland should be more than enough evidence to support this.

And yet, the best verification is probably my love of cereal. My affinity for the breakfast staple is no secret among those who know me (not to mention the fine workers at my local Giant Eagle grocery store), and in all honestly, is probably my most defining quality. Which is perfectly fine with me.

Just last week, as I was slowly and cautiously perusing the aisles at Giant Eagle (I’m sure that I constantly look like a lost moron whenever I’m at the grocery, regardless of how many times I’ve been a customer there), I was genuinely anticipating my stroll down Lane 8. I’m always curious as to what brands of cereal will be on sale, what brands I’ll inevitably pay full price for anyways and whether or not they’ve added another new flavor of Frosted Mini Wheats (answer: probably). I was contemplating grabbing a box of the new Krave cereal at the time (crispy multi-grain cereal outside, smooth chocolate inside), although I had my doubts. The last “new” variety I tried was the Limited Edition Pebbles Boulders, a peanut butter and chocolate combination from the fine Flinstone clan that brings us our favorite Pebbles, both Cocoa and Fruity. The Boulders were on sale (I soon found out why), and being quite the enjoyer of Reese’s Puffs, I figured I’d give ‘em a whirl. And they actually did taste a little like Reese’s Puffs, as well as a lot like disappointment and dirt. I’m not sure how Fred and Barney could screw up peanut butter and chocolate in such a royal fashion, but I’ll take solace knowing that those two will one day pay for their cereal sin, in a fiery and eternal pit of Hell.

Having said that, I bought the Krave. I felt this societal obligation, like I’m the Roger Ebert of reviewing new cereal, constantly expecting friends, family and random passers-by to inquire me of my informed opinion, just in case they were considering it for what might be their last meal on earth. (My thoughts? Good if you like chocolate and have a bit of a sweet tooth. Too rich to put down monster bowls/spoonfuls, plus it gets soggy a bit too quick. It’ll probably be a while before I get it again, though this is largely due to strength of competition. Oh, and for the chocaine addicts, they have Chocolate Krave. Yeah, chocolate on the inside and outside. Wild stuff, I imagine.)

I generally grab five to six boxes with each visit to the store, as that will usually last me just about two weeks. (I always have to go back a second time for milk though; I’m considering buying a cow once I conduct a little more research on pasteurization. Oh, and I only go with 1% milk too, but that’s a topic worthy of its own discussion.) In addition to the Krave, I ultimately settled on Strawberry Frosted Mini Wheats after sifting through the 47 variations. Then I nabbed the Family Size box of Frosted Flakes, a decision I always claim will go differently – Frosted Flakes are never on sale, plus I look like a lunatic buying this box of cereal that’s big enough for me to live in – but never does. Believe me, if I walk into a grocery store, I’m guaranteed to be walking back out with a jumbo box of Tony the Tiger, every damn time. It’s my heroin, my nutrient of choice should I ever be required to stick with only one for the rest of my life (though I choose not to dwell on this scenario). Reese’s Puffs (the real thing) and Cap’n Crunch rounded out my five, the two preceding selections being regulars in my Top 10 cereal rotation (again, worthy of its own discussion).

But as I was waiting in the checkout line, I tried my best to ignore the impending and inevitable look of incredulity that I would soon receive from my cashier, as if it’s a crime that my cart contained only milk, a butt-load of cereal, strawberry jelly, Doritos and one of those scented Glade things that make my whole apartment smell like cranberries. (So screw you…umm…cashier.) I instead entertained a brief notion that while I personally approach the cereal aisle and the food itself as a mark of my simplicity, one could make the case that it’s so much more than that.

One could argue that cereal is actually a mirror of our existence.

Life is continuously defined by the differences between a collective group of people that are more fundamentally similar than any of us care to admit – differences of opinion, beliefs, personality, origin, support systems, status, likes and dislikes, actions and routines and the company one keeps. Cereal isn’t quite that complex, or at least not in a similar manner. In terms of function and purpose, it’s kind of hard to be more straightforward than cereal. (Jerry Seinfeld once noted that he liked cereal so much because “you are eating and drinking, at the same time, with one hand, without looking.”) But beyond that, it’s actually quite layered. The assortment is endless, sometimes even within a singular brand (seriously, Frosted Mini Wheats – they’re infinite). There is a hierarchy across the board, often dictated by seniority and always defined by brand; you can eat Kellogg’s Fruit Loops or off-brand Fruit and Frosted O’s, a choice which apparently says a lot about you. There are cereals that were around long before any of us were born and will be here long after all of us are gone. It comes in relatively similar packages – boxes and bags – but always in a myriad of sizes and colors. It can be healthy or it can be unhealthy, sugary or bland, chock full of fiber or chock full of marshmallows, cold or hot, in milk (1% if you’re smart) or dry (if you’re a complete snaggle-brain), changing the color of its surroundings or having the surroundings change it; eaten by many or next to no one, eaten by the rich or the poor or the countless people somewhere in between (“We are the middle 90%!!!”). It can spark debate, agreement and disagreement. It can be a rarity found only at breakfast, a fixture of one’s morning schedule or a constant source of nourishment, independent of time of day. And regardless of where we are as a society, the discussion will always tend to focus heavily on each of those things – how these entities are different, and how those very differences come to wholly define them – despite how fundamentally similar they all truly are, both in purpose and in function.

Yes, one could argue this. I, on the other hand, prefer to just pay for my cereal, avoid eye contact with the judgmental and justifiably perplexed cashier, and be on my way.

I’m a pretty simple guy.

Thanks for reading

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, cereal... mankind's most perfect food creation! Frosted Mini-Wheats would be my all time choice. But what about combinations? FMW and Wheat Chex? FMW and Quaker Oats Squares? FMW and Honey Bunches of Oats? FMW and QOS and HBoO? The combinations are endless... and delicious too.