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.”