Wednesday, December 9, 2009

General Mills saves children, ruins cereals


That's the headline. Here's the story.

Here's the tragedy. General Mills announced it would reduce the amount of sugar in cereals that are primarily marketed to kids, ie., Lucky Charms, Trix and Cocoa Puffs. The story focuses on how this will affect children, as I guess it should, since it's the most vulnerable among us who will suffer - er, benefit - the most from this change.

But Minneapolis-based General Mills is also messing with my midnight snack. I've been a Lucky Charms consumer for 30 years. For a change this big and life-altering, I feel like General Mills should have polled its most ardent supporters, preferably those of legal drinking- and sugar-eating age. Tell children what's good for them, but can't adults who know what's bad for them have the chance to enjoy themselves?

Disclaimer: I'm extremely healthy and have been since childhood. Haven't had a sick day at work in three years, probably only a handful in 12 years of full-time employment. As a kid I rarely got sick, unless the Lakers lost. Is there a correlation between my good health and the massive amount of Lucky Charms I consume on a yearly basis? I'm not saying that. But I'm also not not saying that.

So with that out of the way, yes, I ate Lucky Charms a couple times a week as a kid. It wasn't the end of the world, or my teeth, though I realize that has pretty much everything to do with genes and metabolism. I continue to eat it today, usually two bowls sometime after 11 p.m. No, it's not always Lucky Charms. Often it will be something healthy, like Wheaties or Life. Cheerios sometimes get a run. But when it's Lucky Charms or Cap'n Crunch or another of the targeted "sugar cereals," all is right with the world.

I used to pity my friends who never got to enjoy a sugar cereal. Did their parents also deprive them of love? Those kids are just fortunate they didn't turn out like Todd Marinovich.

So, what's General Mills going to do for me? Our children will be skinnier and will fit into their clothes better and diabetes rates will plummet as our morbidly obese youth are slimmed if no longer shunned. But what about Lucky Charms-eating adults? Do we have any platform to protest?

I didn't see any specific numbers in the story for Lucky Charms, though it says 10 cereals will be reduced to single-digit grams of sugar per serving. Great. Wonderful PR move. And Cocoa Puffs could see a 25 percent drop. Will that be a 25-percent drop in deliciousness?

"The reduction ... doesn't represent perfection but it represents improvement," said Kelly Brownell, noted buzzkill and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. Brownell later bragged, "The cereal companies have really been under a lot of pressure."

So now that Big Tobacco has been somewhat humbled and reduced to Medium Tobacco, I guess it's time to set our sights on the evils of Big Cereal, tempting our kids with their magically delicious products.

Maybe we do need to protect children from themselves and the marketing genius that is the leprechaun. Isn't there a way to do that without offending those of us who are old enough to decide how much sugar we eat during the day?

Give us an adult version, one loaded with insane amounts of sugar. Put warning labels on it, something with a skull, or a 450-pound man with no teeth. Slap an NC-17 rating on the flap. Wrap the inside bag in the stuff used on CD casing. Force nervous, pimply faced teens to show fake IDs as they buy their Lucky Charms before picking up the beer their 22-year-old sister bought them at the nearby liquor store. Make the eating of sugar cereals a shameful thing. Just don't deprive adults of the thing that's made us loyal General Mills consumers: sugar.

We know the dangers of sugar cereals. Cocoa Puffs turn your milk a putrid brown. At the bottom of a Cap'n Crunch box, you'll be forced to pour out the crushed pieces that are now in a yellow powder form and pollute the bowl. The marshmallows in Lucky Charms get soggy if the box is left open. These are very real dangers. Cavities and diabetes...meh.

I'm sure someday I'll be forced to consume a diet rich in fiber and other bland substances. And when that time comes I'll dutifully pour my Wheaties or Total, and I won't even add a few spoonfuls of sugar. But until I'm following doctor's orders, I need my sugar cereal, day or night. I need my Lucky Charms. And Lucky Charms with less sugar just ain't Lucky Charms.


Mike said...

I guess you will have to adjust and supplement your diet and consume more Skittles, Kit Kats, and Dr. Pepper, if that is humanly possible. We always got the Malt 'O Meal knockoff called "Marshmallow Maties" that came in a dogfood-sized bag. Lucky Charms would always turn the milk a gray color but Marshmallow Maties left your milk a pristine white color.

Shawn Fury said...

I have cut back on Skittles and Kit-Kats, somewhat. Dr. More than ever. In fact, now almost exclusively. I never liked the feed bags of cereal. I'm sure it was a mental thing but there just seemed to be something wrong with the cereal in those things.