I used to love cereal and milk.
When we were little we called it cold cereal before we moved to the South and realized people just called it “cereal” as if there were no other kinds. I used to ask my mom if I could have it for dinner (she almost never said yes). I even love bran cereal.
Unfortunately, boxed cereal is really the epitome of processed food. It’s also usually full of sugar (likely listed under several different names). Those Cheerios are meant to sit on the shelf for a looooong time if need be. So, while I used to park myself at the counter and keep adding cereal to my bowl of milk until I’d solved every maze on the back of the box, I tend to avoid it now unless I feel like indulging. (Yes! I do realize how lame that sounds!)
The first thing I do when I try to give up a processed food is consider whether or not it’s worth making it myself. In the case of cereal, the ingredients for granola are pricey and I can’t figure out how to make a Wheatie.
So I compromise by sometimes buying minimally processed cereal (granola most likely) from Trader Joe’s and I’ve found that the Nature’s Path stuff is pretty darn good. The cereal is organic and contains few if any ingredients that I can’t pronounce (and believe it or not, it’s still tasty). My favorite thing about Nature’s Path is that they use smaller boxes for their products. They include the same amount of cereal, just make the box smaller. Cereal is sold by weight, as anyone who’s opened a big box of Crispix only to find it half empty can tell you.
Anyway, we were out of our plain organic whole rolled oats (boooooring) last week and I used it as an excuse to get some cereal. Nothing crazy, mind you, just some Nature’s Path Raisin Bran. And on a weekend trip to Monterrey I took it in the car as a snack, when my boyfriend asked me whether or not I’d found the mistake on the box yet. I somehow doubted that the back of a raisin bran box had any games so I hadn’t bothered to read it, though I do usually pride myself on finding typos that made it past the marketing dept. I turned the prune-colored box over and read, “You can have your carbs and eat ‘em too!” Oh jeez, not even a send-in-UPCs-for-a-free-something-you-don’t-need offer.
Seven paragraphs on carbs? Ugh. But my boyfriend had found some egregious false advertising, that I didn’t even catch after reading and looking for a mistake. The back of the box asserted that the cereal has “a whopping 8g of fiber per serving, nearly half of your daily needs…” Sounds exciting, I know. Except 8g of fiber is actually only 32% of your daily needs, according to the nutrition facts on the very same box. Hardly “nearly half.”
So my boyfriend e-mailed the company and got a response within a few days. I should say a very satisfying response. The company promised to speak with the marketing department and correct the boxes for the next run. Plus, we got the requisite coupon for more raisin bran (Organic Flax Plus!). Moral of the story: food is a consumer-driven industry, and with the advent of social media and e-mail, it’s never been easier or faster to let a company know when you are dissatisfied. You could also read this as proof of Michael Pollan’s point that if the box has to make a bunch of health claims, it’s likely not as healthy as it seems. I’m not ready to categorize organic bran cereal under the ‘unhealthy’ category, but I will be checking my boxes more carefully.
Even when they don’t include mazes or wordfinds.