Saturday, November 06, 2010

You know you want them

I stopped at the Fred Meyer's tonight to get some milk, beer, butter, and the kiddos some cereal. And as I wandered down the cereal aisle, feeling the diabetic coma coming on from all the crystallized sugar around me, I realized that I could not find any Alpha-Bits.

Remember Alpha-Bits?

I used to love those nasty, sugary things. All lettery, crunchy, and glued all over with the finest beet-sugar product. Mr. Breakfast says that the original cereal idea was
"the brain child of an Italian-American pasta lover named Al Clausi. At the time, Clausi was the head of product development for General Food, Post's parent company. He had the idea to run cereal ingredients through a machine designed to create different-macaroni shapes. Once the cereal ingredients (primarily oat flour and corn starch) were formed into letters of the alphabet, the pieces were exposed to a flash-cooking process known as "gun-puffing".
Whoa. Now that's pretty cool.

But not tonight. There was no joy in North Portland; Daddy struck out on Alpha-Bits.

I guess they're just not hip enough, now-enough, for NoPo anymore.

While I'm talking about kid cereals, though, I should tell you this story.

In the late Sixties and early Seventies my family lived in a suburb of Chicago. My father, who made his living in the chemical business, made frequent trips throughout the Midwest to call on customers buying his water-soluble polymers like CMC and Klucel. During the summer he would often take his wife and kids along, the entire little Sixties American family stuffed in the big forest green Ford Fairlane station wagon.With kids and bags, blankets, pillows, books, and snacks all tumbled inside this Medicare sled my father bored along the small interstate roads of the upper Midwest; Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, en route to dying factory towns with dusty grain mills, paint plants, and fiberboard factories.Once there it was usually my mother's job to entertain the littles, finding parks for my sister and I to play in, reading us (or, when we were old enough, find places for us to read) books, or, most often, taking the public tours of the various business places my father was pitching his products to.

So it was on a hot afternoon in August, probably sometime in 1969 or 1970 that my little sister, my mother, and I found ourselves waiting at the bus stop outside the General Mills plant in Minneapolis, Minnesota.It was a warm day, for Minnesota, and remember that this was 1969; the notion that a young mother should drag an immense rucksack full of wherewithall for her spawn to eat, drink, play with, or wear was inconceivable. So we had no drinks, no toys, nothing to eat.

Except the complimentary box of the brand new "Kaboom!" breakfast cereal we had been handed at the end of the GM factory tour.

The bus back to our motel was late, my dad had the car, and with cell phones a distant future there was nothing to do but wait. Being poor waiters, my sister and I began to whine incessantly if not creatively. We whined for something to drink, something to do, something to eat. Finally, our (I realize now) desperate mother shoved the box of "Kaboom!" at us.

"Eat this, then, dammit, it's supposed to be for kids." she snarled.

So we ate the Kaboom!

(As an aside, am I alone in remembering when "sugary" was considered just an adjective for describing kid cereals? Hell, there was a cereal named "Sugar Pops" and another named "Sugar Smacks". Sugar; it was what's for breakfast. God; what the fuck were we thinking. But that stuff sure was good.)

For breakfast. With milk. I can't think of anything less appetizing on a sweltering summer day than harshly-sugary, brightly-colored dry cereal grain. But it was all we had. It looked just like it does on the box; crayola-hued, vacantly-grinning death masks of sugared cereal. It looked frightful and tasted worse. We choked it down, complaining bitterly all the way back to the hotel. Kaboom! remained our lead standard for awful kid food for years.

I have never eaten the stuff again, nor do I ever intend to. It was only now, researching this post, that I find that Kaboom! lasted until this very year. But no more. General Mills finally pulled the stuff from production after more than a generation.

Alas, Kaboom, we hardly knew ye.

And if you are no longer for this world...can the End of Alpha-Bits be far behind?

Every day, a little more of the world I knew when I was young disappears.


Lisa said...

This brought back memories! Of course I remember those cereals, dastardly marketers placing the worst offenders on the kid-high shelves for the little whiners to greedily grab and beg for.

Having a mother who enjoyed Vance Packard and straddled the generations, she was stuck not wanting me to be a total freak on the outside of my peer's food galaxy, but not wanting me to die of insulin overdose, either.

She saw Dr. Lendon Smith on Phil Donahue and this influenced her terrifically. I could not drink Hi-C, but all of those space-age food bars were coming out, so I could try those. I was allowed Happy Meals once a month, but not before mom would roll some fries in paper towels and squeeze out the fat in demonstration, just so I'd know how I was polluting my body.

I remember loving Captain Crunch and Lucky Charms (more multicolored food not in the natural spectrum.) But mom soldiered on, extolling the days when there were but three cereal choices, oatmeal being the best. Instead of cereal, she was an early (unbeknownst to her) advocate of Atkins' diet, allowing me the choice of a hamburger for breakfast (another choice that fails to appeal today.)

She really did try and inculcate a respect for food, and for that I am grateful, as it did take hold. I have a notion that foods made of flour + water probably aren't that good for you (another of her science experiments, producing a wallpaper-type paste).

Ah, but the occasional flaky, butter croissant with cappuccino is a sinful indulgence, no?

Lisa said...

p.s. -- I love this description:

"vacantly-grinning death masks of sugared cereal" ...

but, they are injected with vitamins and iron, you know? (Remember when vitamins were also multi-colored, shaped like dinosaurs, or whatever? What a sick joke, as we will all go the way of the dinos sooner than later eating that junk.)

[This food pot makes me wonder if your intestinal woes have largely disappeared? I hope so.]

Ael said...

Chief says: "Every day, a little more of the world I knew when I was young disappears."

Ael says: "You ain't seen nuthin, yet .. if you're lucky!"

FDChief said...

Lisa: Well, my internal condition has subsided, temporarily, but I remain like Kosovo, superficially quiescent but uneasy beneath the surface. I can at least enjoy a breve' and danish without immediate worry.

I'm very bad about food; I will eat absolute crap when it's available. I like to cook but often haven't time and space enough to make really good meals. Like you, I'm a charter member of the fast-food and convenience-meal generation, so I was raised on Tang and Pop-Tarts and nasty sliders and fries from L'Arc D'Or.

Fortunately my own mother was a Home Ec. grad from Cornell in the Fifties, so she had a firm grasp of the food pyramid (at least of her day) and the means and methods of preparing a good meal from scratch. I've been grateful for that ever since...

FDChief said...

Ael: Sometimes I wonder if the readiness of the truly old to pass from this Vale is related to the previous passing of almost all of the world they knew and loved. IT must be very strange to be an alien in your own life; especially for those growing old in the last part of the 20th Century, when we went from the pre-industrial era to the Space Age in the course of three generations...

Ael said...

Yes, for many people, the last century was a change from the feudal to the modern.

My great-grandmother was a peasant bride in Ukraine, and homesteaded in Canada. She spent two prairie winters in a slit trench with sod for a roof. Before she died, she once flew to Hawaii for a winter vacation.

How strange the world must have become for her!

basilbeast said...

Then how 'bout a comment on the nutritional value of military field food, huh?

My kiddie favorite was Kellog's Corn Flakes and Post Raisin Bran, with a good dose of sugar.

If you haven't seen it, a movie recommendation to go with this post. "The Road to Wellville"

I'd guess the next generation will get sawdust and vitamin pills, and a long thick green wafer named "something or other green".


Lisa said...


I am glad you are quiescent. It is the same for me: I buy good food with the best of intents, but if I'm famished coming in, it'll be a biscotti and tea or some other prepared goodie.

I was chastened reading a recent piece in the NYT re. how much food goes to waste, in our own fridges! :( Busted, as the kiddies say. So no more avocado deaths -- that's a pledge. I will eat something good before I eat something less-good.


How true for those in the not-so-distant past (and most today, elsewhere.) It's almost like people today carry no memory of that duress, and going without cable is a hardship for them. What's with that?


The most amazing thing is, many people put extra sugar on TOP of the sugared cereals. It's like salting here in the South: Everything gets a shaking of salt, even before it is tasted. Even things like watermelon ...