Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Delicious Nostalgi-O's

I’ve been trying to buy all my groceries from the Publix BOGOF list lately (Publix honors partial-purchase discounts, so buy-one-get-one-free means 50% off for me.) These kinds of promotions aim to get you to try something you’ve never purchased before, or to get you to pick up something you haven’t touched in a long time. I’ve tried just about every type of spaghetti sauce and frozen pizza, and I’ve discovered a few that are actually pretty good, so this type of promotion must be effective.

In the “stuff I haven’t touched in years” category was a BOGOF coupon for Cap’n Crunch cereal. I usually only eat grown-up cereals these days, like Honey Bunches of Oats. You know, the stuff your parents might make you eat instead of Mega-Marshmallow Sugarsplosion. My experiment with half-off Fruity Pebbles went horribly awry, so I was skeptical. However, I needed cereal, so I went off for my first interaction with the Cap’n in more than a decade.

The most notorious thing about Cap’n Crunch is the way it tears away at the roof of your mouth. Whatever formula is used to create this cereal is designed to retain the eponymous “crunch” even when soaking in milk for a long time. In fact, during the years when all cereal commercials were 30-second cartoons, this cereal brand featured a gang of antagonists named the Soggies, morphable humanoids composed of thick, dripping slime intended to resemble milk.

Without bad guys to fight, what good would a cereal mascot be? And not only was he fighting their scheming ways, he was also preserving the integrity of his name. If the Soggies got to the cereal, the crunch would be lost. Unfortunately, the cost is the destruction of the inside of the eater’s mouth. This is what I was least looking forward to.

But wait, what exactly is this cereal? At least I know that Frosted Flakes is corn flakes covered in sugar. Honey Bunches of Oats has a pretty descriptive title. But what the hell is Cap’n Crunch? The ingredient list should help.

  • Corn flour
  • Sugar
  • Oat flour
  • Brown Sugar
  • Coconut Oil
  • Salt
  • Crushed-up multivitamins to achieve FDA guidelines for nutrition

After reading this, I expected a nice wholesome blend of corn, oats, salt, sugar, and more sugar. I imagined dumping all of these ingredients into a giant vat and stirring vigorously until it reached a consistency that would be thick enough to walk across, and then pouring it into thousands of weird square-shaped molds. I ate a bowl of the corn oat sugarsalt.

To my surprise, it tasted a lot more like peanut butter than I would have expected. And then nostalgia hit me.

You know how a specific smell can take you back to a time you’d completely forgotten? You may not even know what it is at first, but a unique odor can evoke memories more strongly than a visual or audio cue. Well, taste works very much the same way. I was immediately ten years old again.

A thick film of nasty sugarmilk-flour covered my mouth and instantly gave me halitosis. This was mixed with the slight taste of iron, not from the mineral additives, but from the lacerations to the inside of my mouth. I felt partially chewed cereal squares stabbing into my esophagus on their way to crunch-obliterating stomach fluids. It was disturbing, but it kind of tasted good. I couldn’t imagine why children would eat this. Then I remembered something important.

At some point, kids began associating the taste with emergency room visits, so Quaker Oats needed to devise a plan to draw whiny children back in. This goal materialized in the form of Crunch Berries. The cereal children loved and paid the price for now featured neon purple spheres with a berry-like flavor. One would assume that this was more of the corn-oat-sugar-salt mixture, but its rounded shape meant less jagged corners causing GI destruction.

This is probably the only part of the cereal that kids actually want to eat anymore, considering the wide array of cereals that exist now, with their panic-inducing colors. That mostly bland yellow square cereal with the occasional purple dots just wasn’t enough, which is why Quaker Oats had a brainstorm session that led to this spectacular and highly nutritious cereal:

Oops! All Berries is the newest in a line of Cap’n Crunch spinoffs, featuring a sheepish but strangely apathetic Cap’n on the box cover surrounded by dozens of neon colors. “Limited Time Only!” the box proclaims, probably because it likely also houses a smaller disclaimer somewhere about how repeated exposure to this much food dye could cause sterility. Regardless, the berry-wrap print should drive children into a frenzy. That’s right, kids, the Cap’n’s mistake is your reward!

So in a grocery store aisle with these three boxes, which one do you suppose the kids claw each other’s faces off to grab?

Oops! All Berries might not be around forever, but the Crunch Berries will. That leaves plain ol’ gross mouth-film-and-pain yellow Cap’n Crunch Classic by itself. So who’s its new target audience? I found out when I flipped the box to the back to play stupid kid’s games.

Shit. It’s me again.

Thirty year cycles, indeed. Cap’n Crunch is clinging onto my generation, all growed up and responsible, and our never-ending lust for nostalgia. It was what caused me to pick the box up in the first place. The Atari joystick and Rubik’s Cube on the back of the box appealed to my longing for a time when things were simpler and the Internet didn’t have everything, ever, instantly. Back when I was amused by impossible cubes and one-button gaming controllers. Why, I can even order a retro t-shirt if I want!

Nostalgia experiment completed, I put the box back in the cabinet next to the Fruity Pebbles to be thrown out in a year. Guess it’s time to go back to Honey Bunches of Oats.

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