14 November 2013

Lucky Charms

I have always loved Lucky Charms cereal — presumably just like every other child always has because it’s not even cereal, just marshmallows and sugar-coated crunchy-pieces that pay lip-service to the idea of “cereal.” When I would have a bowl of Lucky Charms, I would spend twenty minutes painstakingly picking out and eating the cereal bits until I was left with a bowl of marshmallows. The appeal of eating the marshmallows on their own has always been that the marshmallows are firm in their structure, but offer no resistance when you bite into them. There has always been a bit of a thrill in biting a marshmallow and half, and then examining its cross-section. Sometimes I would put a marshmallow—usually a red balloon, because they were my favourite—in my mouth and suck on it until it disintegrated. It’s a different experience than letting chocolate or a popsicle melt in your mouth because you can actually feel individual bits of sugar coming loose from the balloon until nothing is left. These two approaches to eating the marshmallows is contingent on their dryness.
Here's a screenshot of a picture I uploaded to Instagram of the first bowl of Lucky Charms that I ate after buying the
box, including a caption lambasting all of the fools who have eaten Lucky Charms with milk.

Here's a picture of what's left after
picking out the cereal bits.
One time, I think in the summer of 2006, I spent an entire day eating all of the cereal bits so that I could make a ball of all of the marshmallows in a single box of Lucky Charms and bite into it like an apple. It once occurred to me that I should just pick out the marshmallows and throw out the rest, but I realized that one of the best parts is the delayed satisfaction of eating all of those marshmallows all at once. This method of eating Lucky Charms taught me that if you work hard for something, the payoff will be that much sweeter than if you just go straight for the reward. For the record, I have not carried this life philosophy over to any other aspect of my life.

I typically always ate cold cereal dry. Rice Krispies is probably the only cold cereal that I consistently ate with milk (always with sliced up banana and a bit of sugar), and to this day, I have never had Cheerios, Golden Grahams, or Honeycomb cereal in milk. The thought of cereal and milk never disgusted me, but I was always certain that it would take away some crucial element from the cereal. I thought of it as a practice that was widely accepted, but never closely examined. I have always thought that cereal is best when it’s crunchy and that its crunchiness was central to its very identity. While I had often entertained the idea of eating my cereal in milk, I never did because I have always been a firm believer in sticking with what you know and what you know you like. Even if something turns out to be not bad, why waste that one experience when you know for sure that it could be as good as it has always been? For the record, this is a life philosophy that I have carried over to every other aspect of my life.

You can tell this is a store brand cereal
because the flakes are a much lower
quality than I have come to expect
from the branded cereals.
Things began to change when I went to Europe—the land of self-discovery—in 2005. I bought an 8€ box of Special K Red Berries and I had it with milk. Although I had had Special K Red Berries without milk in the past and really enjoyed eating those dried strawberries, after having a bite of my friend’s cereal, I realized that the strawberries only improved when they were soaked in milk and had the opportunity to soften up a bit. It was also around this time that I made the crucial switch from skim milk to homo, and while I still prefer skim milk for drinking, homo really is the best when it comes to cereal or milk in your coffee. The next cereal I tried in milk was something like NesQuik. It went over really well because on one hand, it turns the milk into chocolate milk, and on the other hand, those chocolate balls were always too dense and too hard to really enjoy. The milk softened them up an appropriate amount.

Ever since, I have been on a bit of a cereal-with-milk tear. As I mentioned, I still eat cereals like Golden Grahams and Cheerios without milk, but I’ve introduced a lot of new and exciting cereals into my repertoire as well—all of which I eat with milk. Over the past few years, I’ve really gotten into Kashi, Vector, Raisin Bran and any cereal that has dried berries in it (Jordans Morning Crisp, Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries, or the store-brand take on Special K Red Berries).

Lucky Charms is something that I’ve eaten less and less of over the years. Every once in a while it will go on sale so I’ll pick up a box, but in general, it’s just not a part of my diet anymore. There are probably a few reasons for this. Part of it has to do with how expensive it is, but more importantly, having a bowl of dry cereal has always been a mindless snacking activity for me. I eat it when I am watching tv or doing school work. I don’t want to have to focus on what it is I’m eating, and Lucky Charms is a cereal that, if you’re eating it dry, you have to give it your full attention. So it came as a bit of surprise to me when I picked up a box at Metro the other day (it was on sale for $2.99, down from the usual $5.50), but I was really excited to tuck into it.

At first I ate it as I always have. I poured a bowl, painstakingly picked out and ate the cereal bits, spent some time appreciating the beauty of all the colourful marshmallows alone in the bowl, and then gobbled them up. R was in the kitchen with me at the time and mentioned that his parents would never buy him Lucky Charms, but that sometimes his grandmother would. When I said that I never eat them with milk, he said that he had always enjoyed them with milk and that he would try to eat the cereal bits first because they were best when crunchy, but that the marshmallows really improved when saturated in milk.
On the cusp of trying something new. I regret getting rid of that box
because I could really use a new toque right now.
And then something happened. I don’t know what. I wanted to try it. I poured myself another bowl, added milk, and prepared for the worst. My main concern was that I would have less control over the cereal once it was sloshing around in a bowl of milk. I wouldn’t be able to pick out the cereal bits very easily, and I knew that I would inevitably miss some. I knew, going into it, that there would be times when I would have to eat spoonfuls that contained both cereal and marshmallow, and although I wasn’t thrilled by the idea, something—some force outside myself—urged me on. It will probably come as no surprise that I liked it. I really liked it. I’m still not sure if I like it more than having it dry, but I do like it. I liked it enough to rush out and buy another box to do the whole thing over again.
Something changed in me that day. It wasn’t life altering, but more like a little sliver of doubt entering my consciousness. I was so sure about Lucky Charms. So sure. I knew how I liked it; I was so certain that it could never be better. I’m not sure that it is better, but I think it’s probably just as good. My approach to food has always been premised on a strict hierarchical system. There is a very small group of food that I like, and within that group, I have always been adamant that there is a singular best way to enjoy that food. Potatoes are best fried; pasta is best with bolognese; broccoli and cauliflower are best with cheese. There are, of course, other ways I will eat these foods. I like potatoes baked in an oven or mashed, and I like pasta with either just cheese or sometimes just butter, and I like broccoli and cauliflower steamed plain or with butter, or sometimes even raw. But there is always, always, a “best” way to enjoy these foods. What’s different about Lucky Charms is that I’m worried that I like them with milk as much as I like them plain.

What does that mean for me and my diet? What if postmodernist theory was right? What if there is no such thing as a singular truth? That it’s all a construction? That there’s more than one approach to something, and that one is not necessarily more valuable than another? It’s an exciting time in my life right now, but also frightening. Does my experience with Lucky Charms gesture towards a flattening out of my diet, a horizontal expansion that knows no bounds? And where will I go from here? How will I ever approach a box of Lucky Charms ever again? How will I know how to eat it? How can I ever be certain of what I want ever again? The future is marred by uncertainty, and I have never been more afraid in my entire life.
Ever since it happened, news has spread like wildfire throughout Toronto.

I've approached my diet with unflinching certainty:
Confidence in my taste is central to my identity.
To experiment with food was an impossibility,
And Lucky Charms with milk was an incomprehensibility.

That I liked it suggests potential dietary malleability,
And more frighteningly yet, that singular truth is a fragility. 
What if trying new things is within my capability?
Does this signal towards a new versatility?


  1. Hold the god damn phone. IS YOUR MILK IN A BAG?!

    1. YES. And I hate it. I'm planning a post about it.

    2. I HATE IT SO MUCH! It is so hard to deal with! Not only is it difficult because it's IN A BAG, but because 1) this is the ONLY way to buy 4L of milk at a time in Ontario (and Quebec) and 2) because even though it's 4L, they come in three bags, so you can't even just easily pour them into 1L containers. It's actually the worst.

  2. Also, please say more about the free toque.

    1. Would that I could. I threw out the box!

    2. Wait. Did you notice that in English it's "toque" but in French it's "tuque"? What is going on?!

  3. Sally, not meaning to detract from the depth or the importance of your message in this -- would you mind adding a brief comment about Mini Wheats (both plain and frosted), and how they fit into this picture. Dad

    1. Yes. Although I'm not sure there's a whole post there.

  4. The role of sugar in food

    Have you ever wondered how much sugar is in processed foods and drinks? Now you can find it out at SneakySugar.org. We simplify nutrition labels for you. Our pictures are very easy to understand and really eye-opening!