I put the kids in a borrowed Radio Flyer wagon (the red plastic kind with two folding seats and even, in a nod to American rapaciousness, two cupholders for each kid) and went down to Fausto’s Grocery Store on White Street in Key West this morning.
To be honest, my kids don’t spend much time in grocery stores. In New York we mostly buy online, using FreshDirect, because it’s slightly cheaper and much better than our usurious local grocers. So I hadn’t really gotten a chance in a while to see how transformed my children were by… the cereal aisle.
You would think that we had just made a left turn from the pet food aisle into Disneyland: suddenly, at their eye level, there was an explosion of color and cartoons. Leaping frogs, dancing leprechauns, smiling vampires. The kids acted accordingly, their eyes lighting up, the little hands reaching out to touch all these friendly creatures.
The thing you notice, of course, is that General Mills and all the other grainpimps only put those cartoons on the most execrable corn syrup concoctions. The reasonable cereals, the ones you might want to feed to someone you didn’t wish diabetes on, are all tastefully presented (ie, boring to the eyes of a child). So while General Mills makes Cheerios, which we love, and Cascadian Farms Organic Cereals, which I guess sounds healthy, they put their real energy into the delightfully juvenile packaging and marketing of cereals like Kix, Trix, Lucky Charms and Count-fucking-Chocula.
So maybe I’m uptight. I know a bowl of Lucky Charms isn’t going to kill anyone. But I’m revolted by the thought of the board meetings, the marketing calls, the offsites where General Mills and their executives cook up the next plan to slap cartoons on junk cereals. They should barely be allowed to make that crap, much less market it to preschoolers.
I’ll give my kids some credit: there wasn’t much protest after I pulled down Rice Krispies and told them that’s all they’re getting (I know, Rice Krispies is probably all larded with weirdness, too). Perhaps on this, the four millionth time I’ve said ‘no’ in their young lives, they finally figured out that I mean it. We moved on with a bit of sadness, but without incident.
I’m wary of efforts currently and constantly underway in New York and San Francisco and elsewhere to regulate the relationship between food companies and consumers. I’m no teabagger, but I also think there are limits to what the government can and should do. Telling us what to eat seems to stretch those limits. And yet, today on the cereal aisle, I became a little more amenable to government intervention. Because when the big cereal companies stop talking to me about what my kids eat and instead talk directly to my children, then they’ve gone too far. I hope you’ve eaten your Wheaties, General Mills punks, because this is war.