Corn Flakes: "immortal and lifeless"
April 14, 2015 1:51 AM   Subscribe

"The Corn Flakes trade-off - in which nutrition is sacrificed for convenience, portability, and profitability - is a metonym for food production during the last century." The weird, wonderful story behind Corn Flakes.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (34 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sudden flashbacks to childhood. Brother against brother, as we faced off against the variety pack of little Kellogs boxes. First taste of standing up to the scorn of the world, and steadfastly refusing to put milk in the bowl; it seemed to me a violation of categories. Fear of Ultraman, eventually conquered. Thesis-antithesis-synthesis of cereal preferences, ending with me becoming a King Vitamin devotee, which Mom somehow found to be acceptable.
posted by thelonius at 4:10 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Did you know that people all over the world dry out their beans and grains, merely for the sake of convenience, portability, and profitability, when they could be eaten fresh for much better nutrition? It's like the evil views of the 20th century have reached back in time and polluted all of human history!

In some places they even ferment things—eating rancid, decayed food—sometimes even just because it tastes good!

Why some cultures even wring all of the substance out of journalism and writing in favor of crass unchallenging sensationalism fumbling to grab the coat tails of earlier and more insightful work, just to promote a series of books.
posted by XMLicious at 4:12 AM on April 14, 2015 [41 favorites]


I think my pretentious meter just broke.
posted by Melismata at 4:55 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure that's not a metonym...
posted by MOWOG at 4:58 AM on April 14, 2015


Oddly enough, Corn Flakes were apparently invented as an antidote to masturbation, according to several accounts.

The Guide to Getting It On recommends masturbating while eating a bowl of cornflakes, to help keep Dr. Kellogg spinning in his grave.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:12 AM on April 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


See also: The Road to Wellville by TC Boyle.
posted by OmieWise at 5:23 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's like the evil views of the 20th century have reached back in time and polluted all of human history!

Completely O/T, but you have unknowingly and perfectly recapitulated my long-held theory of how U2 destroyed their back-catalog.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 5:27 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This bit about an early advertising campaign made me giggle: "Newspaper and magazine ads directed women to “Give the grocer a wink! And see what you’ll get.” (They got a Corn Flakes sample.)"
posted by domo at 5:55 AM on April 14, 2015


It’s not precisely understood why refined foods make us sick, but we know that they do. Or, in other words, that's too boring to research and include in this article.

There’s also the issue of what synthetic vitamins are made from. According to Warner, half the global supply comes from China, which is not known for its achievements in food safety, and are manufactured out of sources like “sorbitol, sheep grease, acetone, and coal tar chemicals." Oh, those things sound scary!
posted by tippiedog at 5:59 AM on April 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I had to check the URL again - looked like The Atlantic, but read like Huffpost blog.
posted by tilde at 6:03 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I thought it was interesting how they essentially removed the nutritious parts of the corn in order to make it more appealing and convenient as a product. That really is so much of 20th century food culture in a microcosm.

I've only seen the film, but The Road to Wellville is kooky in a way that reminds you how modern food quackery is not exactly a new phenomenon. And the breakfast cereal names are so familiar it's weird to think of them as people.
posted by graymouser at 6:04 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


After reading that article I feel like I know less than before. Nice trick.

If counterinformative is not a word in the English language, it should be.
posted by Pararrayos at 6:06 AM on April 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


The early (and anti-masturbation) breakfast cereals were nothing like the stuff we buy today -- no sugar and lots of roughage. I don't know if they really worked to stop kids from jerking it, but you would definitely lose your appetite faced with that every morning.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:07 AM on April 14, 2015


Sounds like cereal was the byproduct of First World Problems. Money, time, sexual urges -- go to a health sanatorium!

That said, I did just have a bowl of gluten-free something something cereal and milk because I didn't have time to make a breakfast (instant oats leaves me feeling ill and I didn't wash my thermos out last night to "slow oat cook" some whole oats this morning).
posted by tilde at 6:10 AM on April 14, 2015


I'm less concerned with the sheep shit that "evil China" sells us to spray on our flakes than the actual nutritive value of said additives.

Yes, it's on there - doesn't mean it's actually absorbable. According to my food tracker I am, from one bowl of cereal, 117% on B-12 and 72% on B2 already. But that's assuming I can actually absorb it. The milk gives me some more boost, and so do the raw cashews.
posted by tilde at 6:14 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Did you know that people all over the world dry out their beans and grains, merely for the sake of convenience, portability, and profitability

It's not the drying that's the problem. It's the removal of the protein and fiber, leaving only carbohydrate calories and nearly zero nutritional content.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:38 AM on April 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Never much got corn flakes. Instantly soggy and unutterably bland unless you heap sugar onto them (in which case why not just admit defeat and buy Frosties in the first place?)

As a child I refused to eat anything but bran flakes, somewhat to the consternation of my mother, who would occasionally try to tempt me with a bowl of Coco Pops. Presumably out of a fear that I was some manner of strange changeling rather than a normal child.
posted by Dext at 7:22 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Comparing the processing of corn to produce ModernFoodProducts™ to the traditional drying of beans and grains is not even wrong. It's a categorical error. Drying beans and grains is simply... waiting for the bean or grain to dry. It doesn't involve removing anything mechanically or chemically.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:46 AM on April 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think that you guys are missing that according to the article, even an apple being stored in a root cellar or via a similar storage method for a year is also a shocking and uniquely twentieth-century thing of no utility. The author sets aside a corn flake and expresses surprise that it doesn't go moldy (which evidently inspired the title?), which wouldn't happen with a whole-grain or less-processed product of this type either. (At least not in my kitchen, in the climate where I live.)

These are complex subjects and IMO this article is shoveling a bunch of facts and generalizations together carelessly and indiscriminately, not examining the issues incisively and articulately like some of the sources it references have. Probably because that's what you've got to do to crank out a themed series of books like the one being marketed here.
posted by XMLicious at 8:25 AM on April 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Corn Flakes were apparently invented as an antidote to masturbation

Also Graham crackers.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:38 AM on April 14, 2015


I remember the moment I was eating a bowl of Corn Flakes and asked myself "am I really enjoying this?"

(answer: no).

I kind of lost my love of cereal (which was at Jerry Seinfeld levels before that) afterwards. Well, helped by a sudden attack of lactose intolerance, and the fact that soy milk and almond milk are just kind of "meh" to me.

My kid never developed a love of cereal at all, which is just another way his childhood is super different from mine. It's fruit or cheese for breakfast around our house these days.
posted by emjaybee at 8:44 AM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


nearly zero nutritional content

The words "nutritional" and "nutrient" has come to have almost no meaning in general usage, it would seem. It is reasonable to say that corn flakes lack some important nutrients. It is simply meaningless to suggest that they have had all their nutrients "removed" (as the article suggests) or that they have "zero nutritional content."
posted by yoink at 9:09 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Instantly soggy

You haven't heard of the latest breakthrough by Food Additive Designer Clark W. Griswold?
posted by achrise at 9:26 AM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


A couple of months ago, I had a bout of nostalgia and bought a box of corn flakes because I remembered we always had a box in the cupboard when I was a child. It took about three spoonfuls before I remembered that we never really ate the corn flakes for breakfast. Instead, they existed only to be used once a year when my mom made cookies. (These things also have the bonus of being approximately the only legitimate use of a bright-red maraschino cherry.)
posted by ultranos at 9:53 AM on April 14, 2015


If the carbtacular crappyness of breakfast cereal isn't enough reason to stop eating it then the shitty anti-consumer price fixing sure is.

Which is such a bummer because man I love Crispix.
posted by phearlez at 10:32 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's hard to understand for a late-20th-century American how Corn Flakes became popular as a sugary cereal. The stakes had been considerably raised in the sugar wars by my time. Corn Flakes always tasted like pressed boredom to me. Wheat and bran cereals were gross, but at least they tasted like something. What I wanted, of course, was Captain Crunch or Nerds or Oreo O's or some nonsense like that. And then when I got it, I never asked myself why I was ravenously hungry by 11 am.

Cereal without protein or fat is a completely useless breakfast, which is why they always show it in commercials next to the eggs and bacon that you are never going to fix if you are having cereal. "Part of this complete breakfast," my ass.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:32 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Corn flakes were always sort of a cereal of last resort for me... the only times I remember eating the are when I was sleeping over at a friend's house or in some other unusual breakfast situation. Buc Wheats were the default flake cereal in our household.

Breakfast cereal is one of the things I miss most since resolving to not eat so much empty calorie garbage a couple of years ago. Especially cereal as a late night snack.
posted by usonian at 1:44 PM on April 14, 2015


As a child I refused to eat anything but bran flakes, somewhat to the consternation of my mother, who would occasionally try to tempt me with a bowl of Coco Pops. Presumably out of a fear that I was some manner of strange changeling rather than a normal child.
No, you were just a regular child.


A very regular child...
posted by Pinback at 3:36 PM on April 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


We ate out of those sacks of store brand cereal (Frooty Loop! Corn friends! Honey dazzled Oats!) with our grubby child hands for so long growing up that I can't look at a box of cereal without thinking "Human Feed".

*shudder*
posted by The Whelk at 9:55 PM on April 14, 2015


I used to eat excessively sugary cereal, but I got out of childhood before they were flat out branding them as candy. There's a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup cereal now, ferchrissakes.
posted by thelonius at 2:39 AM on April 15, 2015


Sorry but dehydrating beans and fermenting foods (the latter of which adds obscene nutritious benefits, where have you been for twenty years?) is not in the least bit comparable to "food science" as it's been developed. Bad try.
posted by aydeejones at 10:09 AM on April 15, 2015


Rancid and fermented are not the same either, of course and using that word when most fermentation involves low or no fat foods is disingenuous -- "food science-ly speaking" rancid is a term reserved for fats that are toxic due to oxidation. Most fermented foods are low in fat and make up the difference in providing nutrients that otherwise would not be available in the source ingredients, courtesy of Bacteria, our friends.
posted by aydeejones at 10:12 AM on April 15, 2015


no or low-fat foods

Like corn flakes, for example.
posted by XMLicious at 10:43 AM on April 15, 2015


I can't remember if that's a metonym or not, but I do wonder how my tenth-grade English teacher is doing.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 3:46 PM on April 15, 2015


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