How Cereal Shaped America

Charting the evolution and influence of the grain-based breakfast
By Rebecca Smith Hurd,  Newser User
Posted Dec 14, 2008 10:01 AM CST
A father holds his baby on one arm and Kellogg's Corn Flakes in the other while shopping at a supermarket in 1974.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – We might be eating hockey pucks for breakfast if a 19th-century kitchen accident hadn’t turned John Kellogg’s “barely edible” biscuits into today’s far-tastier flakes, Ian Lender writes in Mental Floss. “The cereal flake is the perfect consumer product,” he says, looking at how cereal shaped American diets, culture, and advertising. “It’s easy to produce, easy to sell, and surprisingly lucrative.” The profit margin? 50%.

Cereal initially caught on because Christians said it’d save us from the sin of a meat-and-whiskey-based diet, but then Kellogg and competitor Charles Post promised healthy bowels, redder blood, and higher IQs. As advertising entered the picture, processed grains launched the career of Walt Disney and helped popularize radio, comic strips, and television. “Cereal producers learned an important lesson: Children are suckers,” Lender writes. “They also realized that kids don’t care about their colons. They want sugar.”