Better Things

It’s only a store brand, but still.  Maybe like me you remember opening a box of Raisin Bran and pouring out the first bowl.  And finding only bran.  Maybe a raisin or two.  By the time you munched your way to the bottom of the box you’d get a bonanza in that last bowlful.  It was more fruit than cereal.  Then they somehow figured out how to suspend raisins so that didn’t happen.  My mind hasn’t caught up yet, I guess.  I was down to the last bowl, and I was eagerly anticipating it.  Especially since the day before I’d only had three raisins and it was clear that the end was near.  Then the last bowl.  One raisin.  That’s a lot of bran to start your day, like C. S. Lewis’ always winter but never Christmas in Narnia.

Speaking strictly for myself, I like to save the best for last.  When I receive snacks in my Christmas stocking, I keep my favorites until all the others are gone.  In my personal myth of scarcity I’m quite aware that good things run out.  And they’re not always easily replaced.  Therefore I tend not to buy the things I like best.  This is the kind of psychology that drives economists mad.   As a child I was taught to put others’ needs before my own and that lesson has dovetailed with the running out of good things.  Of such things monasticism was made.  The raisins are now near the top of the box, but the crumbs are still on the bottom.

I often find breakfast to be the most philosophical of meals.  Perhaps it’s because I write my blog posts in the early morning.  Perhaps it’s because others are awake when I eat lunch and supper.  Perhaps it’s because that valuable things are rare.  It’s the nature of what we find most meaningful.  We live in a culture of largeness and acquisition.  What we truly want, however, may be very small indeed.  Ours is a culture of choice and plentifulness.  Raisin Bran is a choice, as is the store brand.  And it’s even possible to open the box at the bottom and return to my old form of expectation.  I doubt I will ever outgrow the idea, however, of trying to save the best for later.  It’s a form of optimism, after all.  And isn’t it best to start the day with the knowledge that better things are coming?

Rolling with Nature

Even breakfast can be profound.  I’ve written before how our obsession with breakfast cereal was based one man’s religious conviction.  Now it’s widely accepted (whether true or not) that cereal is the healthiest way to start your day’s comestible experience.  Quite apart from that, it’s quick and easy and clean-up’s a snap.  The trick is finding healthy cereal.  Long ago I settled on a species of Shredded Wheat—the kind that comes in little squares.  Unadorned, it tastes fine and is more filling that a cereal puffed up with a lot of air.  (Breakfast is early for some early risers, and I need something to last until lunch.)  The Shredded Wheat model, however, benefits from extra flavor once in a while, so I try to blend in a different cereal (I experiment in the kitchen).  Lately it’s been Cheerios (originally named CheeriOats).

I’ve noted before that one of the fundamental issues with the tech revolution comes down to basic geometry.  The pixel is square but life on our planet is in the round.  You notice it everywhere natural.  Straight lines in nature are rare, but curves are everywhere.  This has practical implications while trying to pour two cereals at once (I told you I experiment).  The stolid, almost Episcopalian, Shredded Wheat does not pour easily.  It takes a bit of poking and prodding to get any action at all.  Cherrios, however, flow more naturally—more on the Pentecostal end of the scale.  As I mix my cereals in my pre-dawn laboratory, I began to understand something about life.  Square corners are superior for stacking and storing, but life wants to be round.  Organic even begins with an o.

The roundness of nature is everywhere evident: eyes, raindrops, plant stems in cross-section, even the great circular wind storms that blow across the surface of the globe.  Objects that are round roll and tumble easily.  Rough edges get eroded away.  The square is artificial, but useful.  It means that the pixel will never replicate the flow and ease of the organic.  Given the nature of pi, each circle is infinite, in one of nature’s greatest paradoxes.  We are the denizens of a spherical world.  Our planet shows us the way to exist upon it, in harmony with the other organic, circular beings.  I linger before I pour the oat milk.  A revelation before breakfast is never a bad thing.  It’s only too bad that after this, the rest of the day becomes artificial.

Wild Oats

The day after Thanksgiving, although it’s too late for millions of industrially slaughtered animals, is a good time to think about plant-based diets.  I’ve been a vegan for three years now, and it has led me to some interesting places.  One of them is oat milk.  Like most Americans, I eat cereal for breakfast most days.  (When I volunteered for the dig at Tel Dor in 1987, however, olives, Nutella, and bagels made quite a passable morning meal.)  Apart from cereal breakfasts being a religiously motivated practice, they’re easy to prepare but difficult to do without milk.  You can (and many sometimes do) eat dry cereal, but we’ve been conditioned to pour milk on it to make a kind of soupy, grainy start to our day.  It feels familiar.

We started out, after much research, using soy milk.  It has to be a particular brand, though, because it can have an oily taste.  We eventually switched to oat milk.  Unlike soy, I can actually drink it like regular milk.  We’ve been buying Planet Oat, but recently we tried Oatly.  Now, I’m one for a working breakfast.  Time is precious and work begins uncompromisingly early.  That means I don’t read cereal boxes or milk cartons any more.  That changed with Oatly.  I found an entertaining and eloquently stated kind of creed on the back of the carton.  When’s the last time someone brought spirituality to the breakfast table (apart from introducing the eating breakfast cereal craze)?  It makes me feel more grounded.

The intricately interconnected web of life makes me think that we should be cognizant of our food.  What we eat should be approached reflectively.  If we had government subsidies for fields of oats rather than industrial farms for the inhumane treatment of “food animals” it seems to me the world would be in a better place, spiritually.  There’s been some comeback of wildlife since Covid-19 forced us all indoors.  I am glad to see it.  These creatures are our siblings.  Even if that seems to be going too far, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny that animals have emotions and minds, particularly those that humans eat.  Given the foodieness of contemporary society (everyone’s talking about food rather worshipfully these days) it would seem that pondering at least how we treat animals before we eat them should be a matter of common courtesy.  Being so far removed from our sources of sustenance has done something to us, I fear.  There are great alternatives out there, and some even make you smile while munching your cereal.

Mastication Meditation

Musing while munching a bowl of Wheaties, a thought came to me.  Not only do we owe the practice of eating breakfast cereal to an evangelical strain of Christianity, but we also encounter the early morning ideas that stay with us through the day.  Cereal boxes start our day.  Advertisers and marketers know that images are important.  If successfully done they stay with us and may influence future purchasing choices.  In the case of Wheaties (which I’ve always liked) the box shows some athlete or other, implying that we’ll be champions too if we partake.  We are what we wheat.  Now, I don’t follow sports.  I can tell a football from a basketball, but watching grown men (usually) chasing one about really has no appeal to me.  I don’t eat Wheaties to become big and strong.  (At my age you don’t want to get bigger.)

As I ponder my fodder, I wonder what it would be like if we put pictures of people reading on our cereal boxes.  Would we experience a massive renaissance of literacy if cool people were shown with a book instead of a ball?  Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for exercise.  I’m a fidgety sort of guy who doesn’t sit still well.  I like to get out and jog or walk.  I don’t mind doing household repairs.  I like to move about.  But reading is one of the great rewards I allow myself.  When work becomes dull, I look forward to an evening of reading (I tend to do my writing in the morning, before the mental exhaustion of the day kicks in.  Wheaties are, after all, a morning food).  It’s kind of like living in pre-television times, I suspect.

Among the publishing industry the fate of book reading is a constant topic of discussion.  Or, not to put too fine a point on it, book buying.  Reading itself is doing fine.  If, for example, you are reading this you are probably doing so on a screen but you’re still reading.  You don’t have to pay for reading, and it passes the time.  No, the crises is getting people to buy books.  People like yours truly buy books even when many are available free online.  I spend at least eight hours a workday in front of a computer screen, and by the end of it, nervous and twitchy, I need a break.  I need a physical book.  And maybe a physical constitutional walk.  If only my breakfast cereal encouraged others to explore the joys of the literary life—but then, I’ve got to get going; my Wheaties are getting soggy.