The conflicted converted cereal craver

It’s a gorgeous fall day. At a farmers market  yesterday, I squealed out loud at the bounty of autumnal offerings: dozens of apple varieties, leafy greens galore, butternut squash, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, oh my! I already have a list in my phone of all the fall-ish foods I want to make, to include pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice coffees (did that this morning) and these figgy, goat-cheesey muffins I stumbled upon…

La pile de pommes with my collection of squashes and gourds in the background.

And yet, all I can seem to think about is CEREAL.

It’s an addiction I thought I had long overcome after almost four years of eating cereal at almost every meal in college (especially the midnight meal). In fact, one of the reasons I chose the University of Oklahoma was for its seemingly endless offerings of cereal in the freshman cafeteria. But sometime a couple years ago I just gave it up. Fueled by growing concern over exactly what was going into my mouth and a short season of low-carb, high-protein weightlifting, I just stopped buying the stuff.

By the time we moved to Virginia this spring, all the boxes of cereal in our cabinet were beyond stale. We probably haven’t had a box of the stuff in our house for six months now. And then, one fateful day last week, my husband went grocery shopping. And came home with Joe’s O’s, TJ’s version of Cheerios. The Honey Nut ones.

Now I may have been able to resist the box just sitting there in the cabinet, but when my husband proceeded to eat the crunchy goodness in front of me — and I heard that sound that only bowl-of-cereal happiness can make — I lost all resolve. I had two bowls. After dinner. And then I proceeded with my usual approach to food items over which I have no self control — eat them until they’re gone so the temptation will go away.

I’ve now graduated to the multigrain ones, with almond milk.

I discovered I am not alone in this addiction — even among dedicated foodies — when I was rereading one of my favorite magazines from this summer: Smithsonian‘s first food-dedicated issue in June. Author Corby Kummer mentions in his article, “Can Technology Save Breakfast?” that he too is helpless before a bowl of cereal, even as he details the cereal industry’s efforts to maintain its precarious healthful image and to ever-so-slightly improve the nutrition of its offerings (from 10 to 9 grams of sugar per serving). Here’s a quote from his piece:

“Like all professional food people, I have food peculiarities. One is that I am incapable of keeping a box of dry cereal in my cupboard without consuming it in a very short period—say, before daybreak. When it comes to burgers, fries and soda, I am immune to the diabolical neurotransmitter mechanisms that David Kessler, in his bestseller The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, accuses the food industry of mastering. Industry tripwires our brains, he and others say, to consume limitless quantities of food with insidiously increasing levels of fat, sugar and salt. I pride myself on distinguishing, and rejecting, artificial flavors like the ones Eric Schlosser describes in Fast Food Nation, engineered to taste better than, say, strawberry, and to make fat even more craveable. In a fairly excruciating smell test in which I had to distinguish the smell of rotted fish in ever-tinier concentrations (laugh, but then think of Vietnamese fish sauce and Worcestershire), I was declared a “supertaster.” Yet I am helpless before a box of dry cereal.”

I read the label and there’s nothing sketchy about these multigrain O’s. Whole wheat, organic… oh, and addictive.

See! It’s addicting! Something about the combination of dry cereal and cold, thirst-quenching milk (I’ve heard of people having their cereal in water, which sounds disgusting) is just irresistible. I’m not sure why. Really, how is it that bread products like pumpkin loaf and Oreos and Vanilla Wafers, which would be gross if they somehow got soggy in water, are flavor-enhanced and elevated to tempting when dipped or submerged in milk? As the Tootsie Pop owl says, “the world may never know.”

Though, due to my addiction, I have told myself cereal is just straight-up bad for you, it’s not. There are certainly some that are (think anything you saw on commercials between cartoons as a kid… and that had a cartoon selling it), simply because of the amount of sugar that lies therein. The problem for me is that even the ones that are great in moderation are just too difficult for me to moderate.

So if you, like me, are now craving a big bowl of cereal, feel free to come over. We have some. But act fast, because I’m about to go polish off the box.

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