Book review: Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal

Cerealizing AmericaCerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal
by Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford
Published by Faber & Faber (March 3, 1995)
Buy it at: Amazon

The best trivia

  • Though today’s Cheerios contain oats and corn, oats were the star in the earliest incarnation of the classic cereal. Cheerioats launched in 1941. In 1945, Quaker Oats claimed it violated their trademark, so General Mills changed the name to Cheerios. Another trademark of the cereal was different, too—at first, the machine that made the hole in Cheerios didn’t work half of the time.
  • Grape Nuts are called grape nuts because C.W. Post called maltose grape sugar and the cereal had a nutty flavor. He also claimed that his cereal cured malaria.
  • Kellogg’s was originally called The Sanitarium Food Company, because Kellogg’s experiments with cereal grew out of his sanitarium. As a diet guru in the late 1800s, Kellogg developed a large following for his highly unorthodox vegetarian meals. An early pamphlet claimed, “Every meal is a prescription.” Those prescriptions included a diet of 14 pounds of peeled grapes a day—and nothing else.

Breakfast gets weird

In an anti-gluten age, it can be hard to remember the power of cereal (if your household still has four or five boxes in stock, it may be a little easier). Even if cereal’s popularity has diminished in favor of breakfast burritos and yogurt, one thing will always be true: cereal was really weird.

Cerealizing America contains the definition of good trivia: slightly irrelevant, completely bizarre, and fascinating. Covering the history of cereal from its invention to the sugary present, it’s a book that manages to be about marketing, religion, health, consumerism, and America while focusing exclusively on cereal. If such highfalutin interpretations are off putting, you’ll just enjoy the facts. No one can resist learning that Kellogg believed vinegar was “a poison, not a food” and that coffee “cripples the liver.” His books included What Is The Matter With The American Stomach and Constipation: How To Fight It.

Though Cerealizing America was published in 1995, it’s not particularly dated. The early years are the best, but coverage of Lone Ranger cereal giveaways and chocolatey 1960s inventions keeps it interesting throughout. By the end, you will have learned a lot (and might even be a little hungry).

What the book is

A history of cereal in its many incarnations, written for a serious-minded popular audience (that likes sugar).

What the book isn’t

Don’t go looking for full scale biographers of a single cereal maker, since this book provides an overview of about 100 years of breakfast.

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