Several years ago I spoke with a food scientist at one of the major organic cereal companies. He told me what I already suspected — boxed breakfast cereals, even if "healthier" are just dead foods. He said that they are cooked, baked and fried — to death — until there is no nutritional value. Knowing this, they infuse a powdered chemical into the cereal that contains a host of synthetic vitamins and minerals. It's an empty gesture — just as empty as its nutritional value. Too bad that so many millions of people rely on these cereals to start their day.
Author Scott Bruce, Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal, writes, "Americans buy 2.7 billion packages of breakfast cereal each year. If laid end to end, the empty cereal boxes from one year's consumption would stretch to the moon and back."
Convenience trumps nutrition
Perhaps this is the best and most succinct assessment of breakfast cereal as we know it today. Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian, writes, "One of the earliest convenience foods, processed cereals represents a triumph of marketing, packaging and US economic and foreign policy. They are the epitome of cheap commodity converted by manufacturing to higher value goods; of agricultural surplus turned into profitable export. Their ingredients have a disconcerting overlap with my cat food. Somehow they have wormed into our confused consciousness as intrinsically healthy when by and large they are degraded foods that have to have any goodness artificially restored."
How it's killed
California food writer Vanessa Barrington gives us a colorful description of what it takes to make boxed breakfast cereal...
"Whole grains are crushed, ground, and put into a giant vat where they may or may not be mixed with flavorings and vitamins and then cooked for several hours over high heat. The resulting porridge can then take one of two journeys:
1. It may be dried slightly and then conveyed to giant rollers that flatten the grains into flakes that are then moved to a super-heated drum that sprays sugar, vitamins, and other additives onto the flakes and then dries them.
2. The slurry of cooked grains may be moved to a cooker-extruder where it is mixed with water, sugar, additives like food coloring, vitamins, minerals, preservatives, and salt, and cooked and agitated over high heat with a giant screw. It is then extruded out, and cut into any number of shapes, before being dried and packaged."1