"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ron English's Cereal Boxes

If you recognize that obese version of Ronald McDonald, it may be because you've seen Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock's documentary about only eating McDonald's to prove that fast food causes obesity. (Please, please, please watch Tom Naughton's Fat Head, which is not only incredibly informative, but also shows why Spurlock's arguments were flawed.) I'm not blogging today to talk about Super Size Me or any other food documentary, however-- I'm going to be talking about the artist behind the obese Ronald McDonald, Ron English, who came out with a new piece of "popaganda" this week that really relates to the obesity crisis.

The brilliance of this piece is that, at first glance, it looks like a regular shelf of cereal boxes. Look more closely, however, and you'll realize that Capn' Crunch is "Cap'n Corn Starch" and Frosted Flakes is "Sugar Frosted Fat," and that most of the cartoon characters, like Ronald McDonald, are obese. English, who is known for manipulating brand advertisements to reflect the truth, has put these altered boxes throughout a supermarket in California... and this move has gained a lot of attention. This photo has circulated all over the internet, and it even showed up on the front page of MSN. Here's a screen-shot I took of it, which includes an MSN poll about cereal:

Based on this poll, only ten percent of people don't eat cereal. And those 17% who eat "healthy" cereals are probably eating crap with ingredients lists like this:
^^That's Kashi GoLean, one of the supposedly "healthy" cereals that is advertised like crazy as "a good source of whole grains" or "a good source of fiber" or B.S. like that... when in reality, it's just fake food that'll spike your insulin levels and make you sick (and all of that soy is so unhealthy too!).
But I digress. Ten percent of people don't eat cereal (based on this poll)! So that means ninety percent of people do-- and that, ladies and gentlemen, is English's point. With the obesity levels rising like crazy in the U.S., it really shouldn't be a surprise that cereal, arguably the biggest breakfast staple out there, is a main culprit. It's convenient (throw it in a plastic bag and go!), it's addicting (carbs and sugar are addicting-- hence the "low carb flu" people get when they cut these out), the advertising draws in kids (bright colors and cartoon characters are always a hit)... oh, and most of them are "fortified with vitamins and minerals" (insert eye-roll). Society doesn't vilify cereal the way it does fast food-- yet cereal is just as bad, if not worse!

Here are some real cereal statistics, from Cerealizing America by Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford:
"-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.
-The cereal industry uses 816 million pounds of sugar per year, enough to coat each and every American with more than three pounds of sugar. The cereal with the highest amount of sugar per serving is Smacks, which is 53% sugar.
-Americans consume about 10 pounds, or 160 bowls of cereal, per year per person.
-49% of Americans start each morning with a bowl of cereal."

Let's examine one of the other brands that English targeted, Lucky Charms (or "Yucky Children Charmer"). This cereal was one of my all-time favorites pre-Paleo-- the song on the commercial was catchy, the marshmallows were addicting (even though they kind of tasted like cardboard... huh...), and I just loved everything about it. However, if I ate a big bowl of Lucky Charms in milk for breakfast at, say, 6:45 before school, I'd be ravenously hungry again by 8:30 or 9:00. Here's the label:
Let's see... high in carbs, a ton of sugar, a bunch of ingredients that I don't recognize (oh, wait, "color" is a food?), and corn syrup... amongst other things. But it's "made with whole grains, [it's] fortified with 12 vitamins and minerals, and is a good source of calcium." Seriously, General Mills? You're trying to pull this off as healthy? Give me a freaking break.
Kids see the cute leprechaun, the bright colors, and the promise of marshmallows, so they bug their parents, who then see that this cereal has health claims* and buy it for their kids. The kids then have crazy sugar highs (and crashes), can't sit still or concentrate, and are starving again a few hours later. Sound familiar? (And, of course, this isn't even mentioning all of the other learning and behavioral issues that are results of processed, sugary, chemical-laced foods!)
The most ridiculous thing about Lucky Charms is that, despite the claim by General Mills that they've been making their cereals healthier since 2005, they can't reduce the sugar in this particular cereal anymore because, according to The Wall Street Journal, "not only do the cereal's frosted oats need to taste sweet enough to keep kids clamoring, they have to float in milk for at least three minutes." Um... Just think about that for a second. They want their "food" to "float" for at least three minutes. WHAT THE HELL!?!??!?
*Note: One of Michael Pollan's food rules is to avoid foods that make health claims. Based on Kashi and Lucky Charms, can you see why? (Actually, I'm pretty sure cereal breaks all of Pollan's rules.)

I recently finished Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, which essentially argues that wheat is the biggest culprit of weight-gain due to "high glucose and high insulin," "cycles of satiety and hunger... this is the foggy, irritable, hungry hypoglycemia that occurs 2 hours after your breakfast cereal...," "gliadin proteins," and "leptin resistance." (His blog is pretty great, so here's the link to the full post.) Think about it: does a bowl of cereal or a slice of bread really cure your hunger? Of course not! So you keep eating more wheat, and the cycle never ends*-- more food, higher insulin levels, more weight gain.... and bam, you're diabetic and obese. While I don't completely agree 100% with "lose the wheat, lose the weight" (there are so many other foods and factors for weight loss too), getting rid of wheat-based products (i.e. cereal and most processed food, which contains wheat) will eliminate carb addiction, help regulate insulin levels, improve satiety, and help with curing certain Western diseases (like type 2 diabetes).**
*Note 1: The night before I went Paleo/Primal/LCHF/JERF, I had a huge bowl of Fruity Pebbles for dinner. An hour later, I was still starving so I went and got a hoagie from WaWa. Yes, cereal was the second to last thing I ate pre-this lifestyle. I am never, ever going back to that! The cycle of needing to eat every few hours was horrible!
**Note 2: Other grain-based products have wheat-like effects too... like corn. Yes, corn is a grain; it is not a vegetable. If you're looking to lose weight or heal your gut, I'd suggest eliminating all grains (and gluten!), and not just wheat products.

I think what Ron English did was awesome. While I don't think his piece of popaganda will change anything in this country, I think it's great that the ridiculously unhealthy properties of cereal are being vilified and are finally in the news. If his cereal box artwork encourages just one person to make healthier choices, then it is absolutely a success. Hopefully, though, it encourages many more people to stop eating these fake, processed, sugary, nutritionally inferior foods!

Ron English's take on Fred Flintstone:

Quote of the Day:
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, said, "Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."


  1. Hmm; I find myself wondering why the cheerios and Cinnamon toast crunch were exempted from the alterations?

  2. Those were some really cool boxes, funny looking at all of them fat haha. If they looked at adding some cereal slogans with fat puns that would make it even better. I found some cereal mottos here if you want to try to come up with some: Cereal Slogans

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