The terror of American breakfast

00:41, Feb 27 2013

If there is any sadder indictment of the American diet than the "conventional breakfast" aisle at a mainstream supermarket, I would be afraid to see it. Every time I am in Safeway, and peruse the bloated range of candied cereal, pastries and frozen monstrosities masquerading under the label of "breakfast" I keep on thinking that it is some kind of joke, except Safeway is the US's second largest supermarket chain and has 1700 stores nationwide. This is where people shop in this country.

In America, childhood obesity rates have almost tripled in the past 30 years. One in eight Americans is obese. The breakfast aisle has to be at least one of the many societal causes of this.

But it was time for me to stop criticising from a distance. I needed to experience this terror myself.

General Mill's Cookie Crisp cereal

As I prepared a bowl of this cereal, two childhood memories came back to me. The first was one of the last times I had to be disciplined as a child, aged seven, when Mum kept on catching on me stealing chocolate chip biscuits at breakfast time. The other was about how in our household Cocoa Pops, a chocolate breakfast food, represented the very pinnacle of what a "treat" was. Boxes showed up around birthday times or if you had been a particularly impressive child, and among my siblings there was the recognition that it was an experience to be savoured and valued.


Cookie Crisps are Cocoa Pops drained of all subtext. If Cocoa Pops play off the fact that they're kind of a cereal but they're kind of a sweet, Cookie Crisps are actually just a mini-biscuit that you pour into a bowl a hundred or so at a time and tip milk on. There could be something Norman Rockwell-esque in the "milk and cookies" motif of it all, if it wasn't a generally pretty terrifying proposition.

I'm a freelance, work-from-home journalist. In my line of work, cereal is its own food group. But I'm not cut out for the Cookie Crisp. Upon digging into my (sizable) mid-afternoon bowl, within minutes I was knocking it back aggressively, sad in the knowledge that my bowl would eventually end. These are incredibly moreish miniature balls of sugar and air. I started to feel horrified by my behaviour. I still poured myself another bowl and shame-ate it. I had a side ache for the rest of the afternoon.

I'm 28 years old and these go so past the line of what an acceptable breakfast food is, or what acceptable food in general is, that I registered being glad that my mother was not there to watch me eat them.


Kellogg's Confetti Cupcake Pop-Tarts

There was always something that seemed uniquely American about the Pop-Tart toaster pastry, which recently turned 40. Though I can find no empirical evidence (read, YouTube clip) to back it up, I'm sure that Kelly, Dylan, Donna, Brenda and Brandon heated up a couple of these  before heading to the mall or something on 90210. I'm not sure if it is still ever marketed this way, but the Pop-Tart was sold initially as a smart breakfast alternative for a busy working family.

You are probably familiar with the Pop-Tart: a thin, biscuity crust doused in icing and filed with a sweet, flavoured paste that is more sugar-y than it is actually flavoured. It is, really, coming to think of it, a big square cookie, a thin-Shrewsbury like thing, iced like a regulation donut.

The Confetti Cupcake branding seems an excuse to make the outside of the pastry more sparkly than usual. The filling is ever so slightly thicker than the usual Pop-Tart, to push it more toward the consistency of cupcake batter. I ate my first one cold, but when warmed in the toaster they smell alarmingly like fresh cupcakes, an artificial trick that scared me. Despite the indulgent idea of the cupcake in delivery, this was no more or less sickly than your average Strawberry Pop-Tart.



Aunt Jemima's Scrambled Eggs and Bacon with Hash Brown Potatoes

I pulled the microwave tray out of the cardboard box. The meal looked off; a gnarled whisp of bacon, the egg scattered around like yellow gravel, a hash brown lain out in the middle of this mess like a brick. 

As I watched the sub-aeroplane food offering sweat in the microwave, I scanned the box for nutritional information. Which was a mistake; 300 calories, 200 of which come from the fat content in the food. I had left the sugar behind, but was about to sit down to a breakfast that was two-thirds fat. Two-and-a-half minutes in the microwave hardly bought this whole deal to life either. The prevailing flavour was simply grease, though the hash brown tasted most like potato.  

I put the dish in the bin, returned downstairs to my basement and tried to get on with my day. It wasn't that I felt sick after this meal. I didn't feel good at all. I felt sad and emotionally drained. It was if I hadn't just eaten a lifeless, greasy pile of nothing that wouldn't sit right on me for a day or two, but glimpsed the general depravity of the millions of souls who had eaten this before me. 

I had to at least mark the frozen meal up because nowhere on the box did it prominently display out-of-context statistics to try to convince me that this was good for me.

Sampling all of this stuff had only made me more depressed. Why do people buy this? Do parents hate their kids? Do kids hate breakfast?

Or do people just hate themselves?

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