One recent Thursday morning, I was on my computer perusing the weekly Publix circular. I am a highly organized shopper who bookmarks all of the local supermarket sites. On the morning that a new circular and sale starts, I am diligently looking for sales, savings, interesting items, and meal ideas. I can’t eat much these days as I am on yet another diet, but I still like to keep abreast of the trends in one of my favorite pastimes…accumulating and consuming food. This day, I spotted something that caused a stirring from the distant past in my food loins. Trix cereal was buy one, get one, free.
I love breakfast cereal. I always have and suspect that I always will. This may seem odd as I very rarely eat the stuff. Cereal is crawling with carbohydrates. Like many older and overweight Americans, I have blood glucose issues and need to avoid carbs in mass quantities. “But what if you don’t consume mass quantities?” you may ask. Anyone who would ask such a question is certainly no cereal lover. If you ever measured out the proper serving size based on the side of the box, you’d be shocked by how little cereal barely covers the bottom of your bowl. That’s the problem. Cereal is not terribly filling, can be shoveled in rapidly through the use of a spoon, and comes in nearly infinite varieties. Whether killing an entire box or having a smorgasbord of multiple boxes, it is just not made for moderation.
Let me take you back about fifty years. I used to go with my grandmother to Shop-Rite on her weekly food shopping excursions. As soon as I helped her choose a cart and we entered the store, I would give her the anticipatory glance. She would smile and give me the nod of approval and I would dash off to Aisle 6, my heaven on earth. I understand that today, my grandmother would be arrested for leaving a seven-year-old unsupervised lest I climb into a gorilla enclosure, but I was actually here for business.
Aisle 6 was the cereal aisle. One hundred feet long and seven feet high, it was 700 square feet of crunchy deliciousness. I had carte blanche to choose whatever sugary treat that I wanted to eat that week. I didn’t specify breakfast as my grandmother typically cooked a hot breakfast for us every morning. For me, cereal was as often an after school treat or a late night snack. I was preparing for a future as an obese American at an early age.
Fortunately, I was not biased by any health concerns as I tried to make my weekly choice. These days, once I eliminate all the cereals with high sugar (any kid’s cereal), high fat (most granola), high carbs (everything else), I am left with Publix store brand of high-fiber cereal. This looks like something you would expect horses to eat. As a matter of fact, it looks identical to the kind of food that you find in a converted gumball machine at a petting zoo. I hear that goats love the stuff. Another advantage of the bran cereal is that it is impossible to overindulge. It is inedible as a snack food. I use it primarily to add a bit of crunch to my daily dollop of cottage cheese or yogurt with fruit. This is the first cereal that I ever was able to keep long enough to get soggy. At least I crap six times a day.
One thing that made my trips to Aisle 6 most difficult was that this was back in the day when cereal boxes came with premium items inside, like TOYS! My introduction to the concepts of algebra and trigonometry took place during these visits to Shop-rite. I would mentally graph all of the cereals on a scale of deliciousness. I would also do the same to the prizes contained in the boxes. This graph was trickier as while the taste of the cereals was known, the quality of the prize was not. It was also important to keep one’s cool. Occasionally, I would get so excited about a prize that I would grab the cereal, only to find out when I got home, that it was a send away prize and not actually contained in the box. It was like eating it with sour milk.
What’s odd is that while I can remember the taste of nearly every cereal, I have little recollection of any of the prizes. Big mistake…a quick check on eBay showed the following prices recently realized for some of these items.
Lone Ranger ring from Kix cereal, $714
Space Beanie from Quisp cereal, $540
Leaping Lava Game Ring from Quake cereal, $450
Snap, Crackle, and Pop rings from Rice Krispies, $400
You get the idea. Since I mentioned Quisp and Quake, I want to mention their brilliant marketing strategy. Coming out in 1965, both cereals were made by Quaker and were basically identical, other than the shape. Quisp (he was space alien) looked vaguely like flying saucers, while Quake (he was some sort of very strong miner with a cape)was supposed to look like some sort of mining equipment, possibly gears. Some sources claim them to be Qs. The artwork on the boxes and the character voices for their cartoons was created and voiced by the Jay Ward studio, the same people who produced Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-right, and George of the Jungle.
The commercials showed a series of competitions between Quisp and Quake encouraging kids to take sides. It turned out that my brother Tim was the eight-year-old physical embodiment of Quake. Of course, he always took his side in the commercials. Quisp, on the other hand, was kind of a wise-ass, and I was in his camp all the way. I’m quite sure that we had many arguments over this as well as a few fistfights. While my grandmother tried to explain that we were the products of mass-marketing, even she eventually threw up her hands and purchased both. Hilda Weissberg rarely got beat. Hats off to Quaker Oats!
By the time my grandmother was finished with the other fifteen aisles (I had no idea what was even in them), I had matched up the two graphs and chosen a cereal. As soon as I got it home, I would engage in a bit of engineering by trying to extract the prize from the bottom of the full box. After mutilating a few, my grandmother showed me how to tilt the box at a slight angle and to gently squeeze it. By carefully shaking it, the smaller cereal would fill up the space underneath while the larger prize would rise to the top. Physics in action! Usually I would just jam my narrow kid arm into the opening and haphazardly fish around until I found it.
Anyhow, back to the Trix. No discussion of cereal would be complete without listing my favorites. Feel free to contact me with your own clearly wrong opinions.
- Trix by General Mills. My favorite, hands down. Raspberry red, lemon yellow, and orange orange. Today, they are a multi-hued abomination of sugar and artificial flavors and coloring…and they still tast exactly the same. It’s like taking a bite of childhood. They rarely had decent prizes, which was a good thing. Otherwise, I’d have eaten nothing else and would most likely be dead by now. Still, to anyone who questions my choice, there is only one possible response: Silly Rabbit…Trix are for kids!
- Sugar Smacks by Kelloggs. These are identical to Sugar Crisp by Post, but I give Smacks the nod because Sugar Bear kind of creeped me out. They were similar enough to swap for a better prize, however. I also should address the sugar issue. The sugar content of all of these cereals is identical to what it always has been, but the companies marketed them all as healthier by changing the name. Sugar Pops became Pops, Sugar Crisp became Golden Crisp, and Sugar Smacks went to Smacks then ultimately to Golden Crisp. It should also be noted that this was the only cereal to be packaged I a foil-lined inner bag rather than the waxy paper. I probably don’t want to know why.
- Cocoa Puffs by General Mills. Seriously? Chocolate cereal? ‘Nuff said. Due to the texture and the floatability, these were far superior to Cocoa Crisp. Drinking the leftover brown milk was an added bonus.
- Alpha-bits by Post. Not the best in any one category, but high marks across the board. It has the added feature of letting you spell out words while you eat. I recall “poop” being popular as a child…and even with my own children. They are at least the second generation of my family to do a letter distribution analysis or just try to complete the alphabet. We would argue about using malformed letters as other letters. This was my wife’s second favorite after Frosted Flakes (formerly Sugar Frosted Flakes). I wonder what people thought they were frosted with after they dropped the “sugar”. Angel dust, maybe?
- Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries by Quaker. Cap’n Crunch got gummy rather quickly in milk, but the addition of crunchberries puts it on the list. I have a thing for artificial strawberry flavoring and this stuff was like crack. I was even known to separate the cereal and go full crunchberry, leaving the naked crunch for my brother.
- Crispix by Kelloggs. This is a more recent entry. It’s low-sugar for me, but still high in carbs. Crispix holds its crunch well and is a great compliment with fruit due to its relatively neutral flavor. Where it really kills is as a snack food. A dry bowl while watching TV in the evening is chock full of bad calories, but goes down so smoothly. As a completely irrelevant extra, my daughter Abby, as a toddler, called these Googax. We all still call it that today.
- Quisp by Quaker. This was a middle of the road cereal, but I not only loved the character, I was Voiced in the commercials by Daws Butler (Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Elroy Jetson), he was the coolest. I am also happy to note that he eventually defeated Quake, driving him out of production. Take that, brother Tim!
I suppose I should also include some of the cereals at the bottom of my list.
- Lucky Charms by General Mills. This really should include anything with marshmallows. Even as a seven-year-old sugar fiend, I knew that cereal with candy in it was a no-no. Even my beloved Alpha-bits came out with a marshmallow version. I wouldn’t eat it, but I liked that they made only the vowels out of marshmallow. By the way, they did include the “Y”.
- Kaboom by General Mills. Gross cereal, creepy clown mascot, and a horrible name…the bad cereal triple crown. Who would knowingly put something through their digestive system called Kaboom? It reminds me of the Saturday Night Live fake commercial for Colon Blow cereal.
- King Vitaman by Quaker. Unremarkable cereal with a less than appealing name, but what made this super-creepy was the human, crown-wearing spokes-mascot. He was worse than the current Burger King with the plastic face. It should have been called pedophilia-Os.
- Reese’s Puffs by General Mills. I like peanut butter, but only on a PB&J sandwich. I can’t stomach it in ice cream, candy, or cereal. Unfortunately, my son sucked this crap down like I used to eat Trix. It turned my stomach to watch him and worst of all, he knew it. Bad memories.
- Rice Krinkles by Post. Admittedly, I don’t recall this one, but during my research, I found it to be by far, the most offensive. They used a clown at one point, but later used an incredibly insensitive set of Asian mascots. Do a Google image search and see the childhood breakfast of Trump voters.
- Froot Loops by General Mills. First of all, they are actually encrusted with sugar. Even a kid who dreams of Wonkaland has to draw the line somewhere. Even more disturbing is the spelling of “Froot” with two Os. Do they actually think that anyone, even a child, would mistake these rings of sugar, wheat, and food dyes as anything relating to something as healthy as fruit?
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